Updated: Mar 20
A very happy St Patrick's Day to all of my Irish constituents!
This week, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt presented his proposals for the coming financial year. As the Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson, I responded to the announcement on behalf of the party. I had a number of points to make about the Government's plans.
I am concerned that very little in this Budget was designed to provide immediate help to households. Rather than simply freeze the Energy Price Guarantee for households at £2500 as announced, I argued that cutting energy bills to last year's £1971 level was not only financially feasible, but is necessary help for struggling households. I proposed that this be funded by a slight extension of the current windfall tax on oil and gas companies and closing the tax loophole that allows them to offset costs if they commit to further oil and gas drilling investment.
Similarly, the lack of energy support offered by the Chancellor to businesses was a key omission, in my view. Many businesses across the UK, including many in Richmond Park, such as our wonderful restaurants and pubs, are going to see their support cut by 85% in April, putting many in financial difficulty. The chancellor should have extended the existing level of support for another six months, and could have done so using the same extension of the windfall tax.
Among all the discussion of the budget, I also had the opportunity this week to share my thoughts on the Heathrow expansion. During the ITV late debate on Thursday night, I was asked if I believed the third runway would ever be built. After years of opposition to the scheme, I am delighted to say that I think the threat, while not gone entirely, is receding. Over the past year, the airport's major shareholder Ferrovial has begun to quietly look for ways to exit the airport. Virgin Atlantic, one of the third runway's largest backers, announced its opposition to the project, and Heathrow has slipped deeper into debt.
The cost of building the runway was projected to be roughly £25 billion in 2018. Now, with the rising cost of materials and inflation, it is likely significantly higher. In a time when budgets are shrinking we should not be pouring resources into this scheme. We need to instead direct funding into upgrading and expanding our ageing rail systems. You can see a clip of my discussion of the Heathrow Expansion here.
SILICON VALLEY BANK COLLAPSE
The rapid deterioration of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) last weekend posed a huge risk to thousands of British businesses. I am pleased that swift action was taken to facilitate the sale of the UK arm of SVB to HSBC, bringing relief to UK tech firms that might have gone bust without immediate help to stabilise cash flow.
Now that the immediate crisis has settled, we must look at the wider regulatory framework and assess what lessons can be learned from the collapse of SVB to ensure that adequate regulation is in place to monitor risk and ensure stability in our financial system. During an Urgent Question in Parliament, I asked the Government whether the Bank had breached regulation by issuing statements of attempted reassurance on Thursday and Friday, which, had a sale not been facilitated, could have resulted in depositors incurring significant losses.
BAN ON IMPORT OF HUNTING TROPHIES
Hundreds of constituents have emailed me in support of the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, which would ban imports of hunting trophies into Great Britain.
I am pleased to say that the Bill passed its final stages in the House of Commons earlier today and will now make its way through the House of Lords. In support of the campaign to ban the import of hunting trophies, I have signed several Early Day Motions and a cross-party letter with over 100 signatories urging the Government to take action.
I have also voiced my support for this campaign in Parliament. Last September, I challenged the previous Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Ranil Jayawardena’s U-Turn on implementing a ban on such trophy hunting. Please find below a link to my oral question here.
The illegal wildlife trade has enormous negative impacts on biodiversity, existing ecosystems, the natural heritage of the countries of origin, natural resources and the conservation of species. A change in law to ban the import of hunting trophies will show countries around the world, including those where the trophies originate, that the UK is serious about ending this practice.
On Thursday, I met with dozens of constituents for a coffee morning at the Poppy Factory in Richmond. The budget was very much at the forefront of everyone's minds and it was fascinating to hear so much spirited debate on the economy. Alongside the budget, we had the chance to delve into issues around sewage, Heathrow, immigration and education. I was particularly interested to hear residents' views on this final topic, and as it was discussed, it became very apparent that while the Government's new childcare policy is a good start, it does not go far enough towards supporting parents.
I highly recommend a visit to the Poppy Factory for any constituents who have never been there. The Poppy Factory runs regular, hosted discovery sessions for individual visitors and small groups, with tickets available for upcoming sessions on Wednesday 22 March and Monday 27 March. Both sessions start at 12.30pm. All funds raised through the charity’s visitor centre go towards its national employment service, helping veterans with health conditions to transform their lives. For details and to book tickets, click here.
If you have any questions for me or would like to discuss a local issue or piece of national policy, please join me in Kew on April 4th for my next coffee morning. You can sign up here.
Earlier this week, I met Holly, a year six student from Kingston who, as part of her class's lesson on neglected tropical diseases, drew a wonderful poster to raise awareness of trachoma. This condition results in infected patients' eyelashes turning inwards to scratch the eyeball. Despite being relatively unknown, trachoma is one of the leading infectious causes of blindness around the world.
It was wonderful to meet a young person so interested in helping others around the world. During our conversation, we came onto the subject of foreign aid, with Holly informing me that while the UK used to provide medicines to treat trachoma across the world, since the Government cut our foreign aid budget, these vital medications have not been getting to where they are needed most. Since speaking with Holly, I have written to the Foreign Secretary to pass on Holly's arguments and make the case for more investment into foreign aid. I hope that he will be as touched as I was by Holly's words and will work towards re-establishing Britain as a nation that reaches out to help others across the world.
Travel disruption will continue tomorrow with all but two SouthWestern Railway stations in the constituency closed due to the strikes. Only Barnes and Barnes Bridge will be operational and will be running a severely reduced service of two trains an hour to Waterloo and Hounslow. These trains are likely to be extremely busy and I would advise you to avoid travelling by train if possible. Overground and District Line services will still be running to and from Richmond and bus routes should remain unaffected, although traffic is likely to be heavier than normal.
If you need further information on the strikes and would like to know which nearby stations are still operational, click the link here.
RICHMOND PARK MINIBUS RETURNS
Free transport service within Richmond Park returns from April 5 to November 29, funded by private donations to the Royal Parks. The minibus will operate every Monday, Wednesday and Friday between the hours of 9:25am and 4:20pm, allowing people with limited mobility to enjoy more of the Park.
The minibus has disabled access, and runs between all the Richmond Park car parks, Ladderstile Gate, Richmond Gate, Pembroke Lodge and Isabella Plantation. This year it will also stop outside the Sheen Lane Centre in East Sheen as well as going out of the park into Ham, stopping at Ashburnham Road (371 bus stop), Ham Gate Avenue (near to 65 bus stop.)
The minibus is free and fully accessible with a ramp and steps to aid access. Wheelchair users wishing to use the service should contact email@example.com. There are only four buses a day, so please do check the schedule here before traveling.
MET POLICE TURNAROUND PLAN
Our local officers work incredibly hard, but recent high-profile incidents, years of budget cuts and a consequent rise in ASB and other low-level crime have meant many no longer feel confident in the Met's ability to protect them. When he took up his new position, Commissioner Mark Rowley spoke candidly to MPs, telling us that while changes will take time, the force completely accepts it needs reform.
This week, l was invited to meet with Met Police leaders to hear more about their new long-term turnaround plan. This nine-pronged approach is a long-term strategy designed to restore faith in the police, deter crime, train new officers, and strengthen our local neighbourhood teams to combat threats at the street level. I was particularly pleased to hear about the emphasis it will be placing on community policing and cadet training. If you would like to read more about the turnaround plan, click the link here.
ONLINE SAFETY GUIDE FOR WOMEN
As we celebrate Women's History Month, it's important to recognise that many women continue to face harassment and abuse online as well as in real life. To support women in this ongoing struggle, Estelle Autrey at Safe Net Experts has shared a comprehensive guide on cyber safety. This guide provides ways to avoid putting yourself at risk of hacking, doxing, and other forms of online harassment. I hope the guide will be a useful resource for women who may not be aware of all the risks online.
NEW SCHOOL FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM
Kingston Council confirmed this week that its specialist autism school will be opening in Chessington in September of this year. While the new building will only be completed in 2024, children will be housed in temporary classrooms on Coombe Road in Norbiton from this autumn. While it would naturally be ideal if the building were completed before this academic year, I am extremely pleased that the new students will be able to take up their places as soon as possible. As 40% of all children with special educational needs in the constituency have autism, this school is a wonderful addition to local services.
If you would like to learn more about the Spring School, you can read more on their website here.
FREE WALKING TOURS OF KINGSTON
If you want to find out a bit more about the history and heritage of the town while taking a stroll, the Kingston Walking Tours runs weekly walks every Sunday for you and your family to join. Even if you've lived in Kingston your whole life, they guarantee you will learn things you didn't know about Kingston.
SOUTH RICHMOND RECYCLING AREA REMOVED
The Queens Road Recycling facilities and a waste bin next to the Cambrian Centre in the Richmond Hill area have been removed. The land where they were sited and the neighbouring basketball court are being redeveloped into social housing and almshouses by their landowner Richmond Parish Lands.
The recycling facilities are unlikely to be replaced in the immediate future because there is no obvious alternative location nearby. Residents are encouraged to use recycling facilities at the bottom of Queens Road (approx. 200m away) and Kings Road (400m) until new facilities can be provided.
EAST SHEEN MARKET
East Sheen's spring market will be held on Saturday March 25 from 11:00 - 5:00pm in front of East Sheen Library. Come along and enjoy live music, food and drink, children's entertainment and craft stalls.
HAM YOUTH CENTRE FREE EASTER ACTIVITIES
Ham Youth Centre has been in touch with me to share their exciting FREE activity programme for the Easter holidays for 10-16 year olds. They have a variety of fun activities on offer, and the provision includes a nutritious lunch each day. Click here for more details
SOCIAL HOUSING DISREPAIR CAMPAIGN
A new Richmond Social Housing Disrepair Campaign is being led by voluntary sector organisations Ruils and Multicultural Richmond, along with Age UK, Citizens’ Advice Richmond, SWLEAP and Richmond Aid, a coalition of voluntary sector organisations who, like your ward councillors, do a huge amount of advocacy work for social housing residents. They are working with the Council on a drive to improve repair standards in social housing in the borough. See the poster at the bottom of this page for details.