IMPACT OF BREXIT ON UK TRADE
On Wednesday the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) published research surveying more than 1,000 British businesses on the impact of Brexit on the UK’s trade with Europe. The researchers found that 71% of exporters say the EU trade deal is not enabling them to grow or increase sales, while only one in eight exporters thinks it is helping them grow or increase sales. The majority of surveyed respondents think Brexit has pushed up costs, increased paperwork and delays, and put the UK at a competitive disadvantage.
To me this is a clear statement from businesses that the new trading arrangements are just not good enough for British businesses. I am also really concerned that the Government is not listening or responding supportively to business concerns. As the cost of living crisis grows we need far more government action. This should begin with relaunching the SME Brexit Support fund which was used – sparingly – last year.
RAIL AND TFL FARE INCREASE
The Liberal Democrats have recently been looking into annual season ticket rises for London rail commuters. In some commuter areas fares will go up by £200, a 3.8% hike. It is unacceptable to have such a rise not only in the middle of a cost of living crisis, but also as train companies continue to run patchy timetables. Commuters will quite rightly be wondering what they are actually paying for.
On Monday it was announced that TfL fares will also rise by an average of 4.8% from March 1st, creating an added burden for passengers. Given the enormous financial pressure on TfL and the unwillingness of the Government to be more supportive, this was sadly inevitable.
These fare increases highlight, once again, the extent to which the Government needs to get a grip on the cost of living crisis. Hard pressed families are already struggling to balance the books; adding hundreds of pounds more in transport costs will come as a devastating blow. Freezing rail fares would be a pro-commuter and pro-business move as the country recovers from the pandemic.
RECYCLABILITY OF COVID PLASTIC
A recent study found that 8 million tonnes of pandemic plastic waste has been generated worldwide. With that in mind, I recently submitted a Parliamentary Question to the Department for Health asking what steps they are taking to improve the recyclability of Covid-19 testing equipment and disposable PPE. I was encouraged to hear that Test and Trace is exploring alternative testing equipment made from predominantly recyclable or biodegradable materials. I was also informed that the department is reviewing whether face masks could be turned into curtains or bedsheets. I was pleased to see a number of media outlets pick this up as I believe we must be more mindful about this.
SUPPORTING CRAFT BREWERS
This week I sent a letter to the Treasury, co-signed by all of my fellow Liberal Democrat MPs, calling on the them to consider the impact of alcohol duty reforms on small domestic producers. We welcomed the reforms introduced in the Autumn budget in principle, but smaller independent craft breweries and artisanal spirit makers cannot take advantage of them. Cuts to duty only apply to barrels of over 40 litres, while many independent breweries use 30 litre barrels. I feel this policy treats smaller businesses unfairly. You can see my letter about it here.
LONDON WETLAND CENTRE COFFEE MORNING - AND VOLUNTEERING OPPORTUNITY!
I enjoyed a lovely morning talking to constituents at the London Wetland Centre in Barnes yesterday. Attendees shared their views on local transport issues, Hammersmith Bridge and the future of the Stag Brewery site. It was a beautiful day in the centre and we enjoyed the views over the wetlands after the session. I want to thank our hosts for their generous hospitality yesterday.
If you have a love for nature and a bit of time on your hands, the Wetland Centre is looking for volunteers in a number of roles, both indoor and outdoor! If you want to learn about volunteering at London Wetland Centre, you can join them for a relaxed Teams call to find out more about what they do and talk to managers from all the different departments.
You might decide you would like to deliver talks to the public, help with office admin, or chop down trees on the reserve! The session is on Monday 21st February, from 11-12pm. You do not need to register, simply Click here to join the meeting.
Last week I enjoyed trying out a Lime electric bike. Lime will be introducing their next generation G4 bike to Richmond this summer as their pilot programme continues. I was most impressed with how easy it was to ride. I strongly support their goal of making cycling accessible to more potential riders of all ages and abilities. I hope that electric bikes will be a useful addition to local transport options in the constituency, contributing to better air quality and fitness while decreasing car use.
I also visited Educare Small School last Friday to help celebrate its 25th anniversary. The school's mission is to provide a safe, balanced and nurturing education that enables children to develop their potential as individuals. They want to give Educare children the confidence, skills, love of learning and creativity to grow into citizens who make a positive contribution to society. I congratulate them for their many successes and wish them the best as they continue their work.
COUNCIL EMISSIONS CUT IN HALF
Richmond Council has made a number of significant steps to support its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. The Council published its Climate Emergency Strategy in 2019 and its first annual Action Plan in January 2020. The Climate Emergency Action Plan is updated each year and sets out what actions the Council will deliver along with how it will work to support local partners and residents. The plan has produced impressive successes including
an overall decrease in emissions from the Council as an organisation of 62.7% since 2017/18
a reduction of 40.7% in carbon emissions from the borough as a whole, decreasing from 1033.9 kilotons of CO2 (ktCO2) in 2005 to 612.8 ktCO2 in 2019
a 45% reduction in per capita emissions (the amount of CO2 per person in the borough) from 5.7 tons per person in 2005 to 3.1 tons per person in 2019
I was delighted to hear of this smashing success in reducing Richmond's emissions. I know how much effort the Council has put into home and transport energy efficiency and other climate change initiatives.
You can read Richmond upon Thames’ Climate Emergency Action Plan here.
DROP-IN WEBINAR ON GREEN HOMES GRANT
Continuing this good work, Richmond Council will host a virtual drop-in webinar event at 5:00pm on Tuesday, 1 March to provide residents with more information on the Green Homes Grant and how eligible households across the borough can apply for up to £10,000 worth of funding to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
The Green Homes Grant is a scheme for homeowners and landlords to support the installation of energy efficient and low-carbon heating improvements to their homes. Eligibility for the Green Homes Grant has recently been expanded meaning more homes in the borough are now eligible for funding to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Find out more about the Green Homes Grant.
The March 1 webinar will be hosted by Richmond Council’s Climate Emergency lead officer, Andrew Hagger. At the event residents will be able to learn more about the scheme and ask questions about the grant. The event will be recorded and made available on the Council’s website for those unable to attend on the night. Register your place here.
PLANNING APPLICATION FOR NEW LEISURE CENTRE SUBMITTED
I was delighted to hear this week that the planning application for the new leisure centre on the Kingfisher site has been submitted. This is an exciting step in the regeneration project that will transform the heart of Kingston and provide residents with fantastic new leisure and cultural facilities.
Kingston Council has given committee approval to the scheme already, reaffirming its commitment to deliver the new community leisure facility, as part of the Transform Kingston programme. The Council had more than 7,000 responses to the 3 phases of engagement on the proposals, and this valuable insight into the community's views have informed the plans. The new leisure facilities will help meet the need for a wide range of high quality physical activity services and facilities across the borough.
The planning application for the scheme will now be validated and will be live on the council’s planning portal in the next few weeks. It is anticipated it will go to Planning Committee in the Autumn. I look forward to watching this plan progress through to completion.
STATE OF THE BOROUGH DEBATE
All Kingston residents are invited to attend the upcoming (virtual) State of the Borough debate on Tuesday 22 March at 7:00pm. The State of the Borough debate is on the theme of ‘Covid-19 Impact and Recovery’. The panel will be discussing how the borough came together in response and how it is now recovering. They are currently calling for registration and questions from the public for the panel, which includes:
Forbes Low, Kingston Chamber of Commerce
Dr Naz Jivani, South West Clinical Commissioning Group
Iona Lidington, Director of Public Health, Kingston Council
Fiona Tarn, Kingston Stronger Together Hub, Kingston Council
Peter Mayhew-Smith, South Thames Colleges Group
Archie O’Neill, Creative Youth
Pippa Mackie, Kingston Citizens Advice Bureau
Sanja Djeric Kane, Kingston Voluntary Action