Richmond Park News: 17 March 2023
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.
You can see a clip of me responding to the budget in the Chamber here and discussing it on ITV News news here.
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.
You can read a transcript of the debate in Parliament here, or watch a clip of my contribution here.
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