Yesterday, I responded to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in my role as Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson.
As many of you will already have seen, the Statement was confirmation that over the coming years, the Conservative Government will be increasing taxes, particularly on low and middle income households, while cutting the vast majority of public services. Many households will also see their energy bills rise another £500 per year. This new austerity programme is a direct result of the £30 billion hole in our public finances created largely, according to the Resolution Foundation, by the Conservative’s disastrous September ‘mini budget’.
In advance of the Autumn Statement, I called for the Government to ensure that education and health budgets received real terms funding increases, a proper windfall tax was introduced on oil and gas giants, and that benefits and pensions would be up-rated in line with inflation. The last of these points was a direct call to preserve the ‘triple lock’ on pensions, which the Liberal Democrats introduced as a part of the Coalition Government.
It was pleasing to see some of these calls lead to action in the Statement. However I would have liked to see the Government reverse their tax cuts to the Banking Surcharge and Bank Levy, and close the windfall tax loophole, which allows energy giants to avoid paying a large part of their tax if they invest in further oil and gas exploration. These measures would have raised over £20 billion more for the Treasury, and would have helped balance the budget without the need to cut public services to such a large extent.
Going forward, I will be leading Liberal Democrat calls for the Government to lift their freeze on income tax thresholds, which will see over 6 million people dragged into paying a higher rate of tax.
If you would like to read a full explainer of the measures introduced yesterday, you can do so here. You can see my question to the Chancellor in the House here, and my interview on Sky News about the Statement here.
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SCHOOL FUNDING CRISIS
Over the previous few weeks, I have spoken with and received letters from many local schools about the funding crisis they are facing as a result of the Government’s squeeze on public spending over recent years. I was informed that budget constraints may lead to reduced curriculum options and teacher redundancies.
In response, I wrote an open letter, with my Liberal Democrat colleagues Munira Wilson MP, and Sir Ed Davey MP, calling for the Chancellor to increase school spending in real terms in the Autumn Statement.
On Wednesday morning, I visited the Richard Challoner School in Kingston to speak to ITV London about the issue, and to speak to students and teachers about the challenges they are facing.
I was pleased to see school spending increased yesterday. However it is clear that this commitment will not be enough for some schools and that the Government must continue to ensure that no child faces seeing their opportunities limited as a result of budget constraints.
DEBATE ON BRITISH INDUSTRY
On Tuesday, I spoke in a debate in Parliament on securing the future of British industry.
The Government scrapped the previous Industrial Strategy in March last year. Since then, they have failed to come up with a long-term plan to ensure British industry is able to adapt to the challenges of the future and support economy growth. Several key British industries, such as the automotive, steel and shipbuilding industries, are falling into decline. It is vital that we have a new Industrial Strategy that is aligned to our Net Zero goals and that supports the development of future technologies.
In the debate, I highlighted two key barriers to economic growth: declining trade and workforce shortages. Brexit has had a significant adverse impact on UK trade. The OBR forecasts that trade intensity will be 15% lower in the long-run than if the UK has remained in the EU. It is essential that the Government works to reduce barriers to trade, especially for SMEs, many of whom have given up exporting to the EU.
I also urged the Government to tackle the labour and skills shortages that industries right across the board are experiencing. I would like to see the Government implement a National Skills Strategy for key sectors to help match skills and people, and work to improve the efficiency of the visa system.
ROUNDTABLE WITH LOCAL PUBLICANS
It was a pleasure to host a roundtable with a group of local publicans this morning. I know that hospitality businesses are facing particularly difficult trading conditions at present, arising from a number of factors including the pandemic, soaring energy costs, Brexit and a lack of support from central Government. As Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Treasury and Business, and also as a constituency MP, I really value the contribution of pubs and restaurants to the economy and to our local community. I am extremely concerned that many may face closure in the coming months without sufficient Government support.
It was really useful for me to hear directly from local businesses owners about the challenges they face, both nationally and on a local level. I will be working with the local council and in Parliament to ensure these issues are addressed. If you are a publican, and you would like to raise any concerns with me, please do send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
KINGSTON UNIVERSITY VISIT
I joined fellow MPs Sir Ed Davey and Munira Wilson at Kingston University last Friday to experience first-hand Kingston's new undergraduate programme "Future Skills", which will become a core element of the undergraduate experience at the university. The programme is designed to foster the "skills of the future" - those skills identified as vital for the continued competitiveness of the UK economy by the over 2000 senior decision makers from a wide range of industries. These skills include: problem solving/process skills, critical thinking, communication skills, resilience, creativity and many more. We spent a fascinating morning learning about this programme from our innovative local university.
UPDATE ON HAM GATE TOILETS
I know that many visitors to Richmond Park have been affected by the closure of the toilets at Ham Gate and I am pleased that it seems there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. After extensive lobbying from local residents, councillors, and myself, the Royal Parks have now agreed to propose a new toilet on the old site.
The proposal will introduce an accessible toilet cubicle and takeaway kiosk. The toilet will be free of charge to access by all park visitors when the kiosk is open and when the kiosk is closed, the toilet facility will continue to be free to access by anyone who holds a RADAR (Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation) key. All other park visitors will be required to pay 20p via contactless payment to access the facility when the kiosk is closed.
While no date has been set for the toilets reopening, I believe the Royal Parks is hopeful it could be installed in spring 2023.
The local police have written to say they have been focusing on knife crime this week as part of the national Operation Sceptre activity. Work included weapon sweeps and hotspot patrols. Officers also talked to young people in schools and youth premises to highlight the life-changing consequences of carrying a knife. Retail businesses were also visited to flag the risks of selling knives to young people.
Local police inspectors also asked me to let constituents know that Kwik-Fit businesses are running a free catalytic converter marking scheme. No need to book, just drive in to the garage during business hours. You may have a short wait depending on how far you have traveled (i.e. how hot your converter is) and whether they have other customers waiting. There is a Kwik-Fit in Richmond at 48 Sheendale Rd, Richmond TW9 2JJ, on the south side of the A316 between Richmond Circus and Manor Circus.
The Police have also sent through the three advice leaflets below, including one on catalytic converter theft. Please click on the links below to see their top tips on:
Lastly, Met Police is raising funds and collecting toys to bring a brighter Christmas to children in London who would otherwise go without. Last year 17,000 kids had a visit from the Met’s Christmas elves. If you would like to donate you can click here.
SUPPORT HABITATS & HERITAGE WITH AXEL SCHEFFLER
Kick start the festive season and join world-famous illustrator and local national treasure Axel Scheffler as he reads his latest creation with author Julia Donaldson, “The Baddies”, as well as the much-loved “Stick Man” and everyone’s favourite “The Gruffalo” at the Habitats & Heritage Children’s Christmas Show with Axel Scheffler. The two live events for children and their parents will take place on Saturday 3rd December 2022 at 9.30am and 11:30am at St Stephen’s Church in East Twickenham.
As well as reading these classic story books, Axel will be drawing his most famous characters, with the drawings auctioned off after the event to support Habitats & Heritage's work caring for the natural and historic environment and climate in south and west London. Each event lasts 40 minutes and will also include time for Axel to sign books purchased on the day. Book your tickets here.
LONDON WETLAND CENTRE CHRISTMAS TRAIL
I was pleased to be invited to the opening night of the London Wetland Centre's Illuminations Christmas Trail. They have transformed the setting into a magical night time wildlife experience, with lots of waterbirds to enjoy, both in live and decorative form. For this year they have added a talking Man in the Moon on one of the ponds, and night vision goggles in the Headley Hide for spotting the wildfowl in the dark. You can see some of the wildlife light installations below. For tickets and information click here.
KINGSTON TOWN CENTRE PLANS - POP IN TOMORROW
The council is continuing to engage on the community-led plan for the Kingston town centre area and will be in the Market House, in Kingston’s Market Place, on Saturday 19 November, 10am-2pm. They are hearing that people want to see a greener, safer and more accessible town centre and new developments and public spaces that respect the existing character of the town. If you haven’t already seen it, do take a look at this video where Cllr Hayes and Citizen Panel Members talk about the vision and why it is important that everyone contributes.
NEW CLIMATE EMERGENCY CENTRE
Local green-minded community group, Kingston Hive, is opening a Climate Emergency Centre in the glass unit under the cycle parking at Kingston Station. The space has been provided by the Council as part of its commitment to supporting and working with the local community to tackle climate change and helping the borough’s high streets thrive. The Hive will be running a variety of activities, including workshops on cutting energy costs and upcycling, eco film nights and expert talks and emotional support sessions.
DISABILITY CAMPAIGN 2022
Kingston residents may want to know about a month-long campaign bringing the council and partners together to better understand the needs of our disabled community across the borough and raise awareness of the local support and resources available. The themes of the campaign are Learning, Optimism, Celebration and Action and it is running from 16 November to 16 December 2022, aligning with UK Disability History Month and ‘International Day of People with Disabilities’ on 3 December. Kingston Council's events page can be found here.
TEA AND TREATS
Tea and Treats is looking forward to welcoming visitors at their next opening on Friday 2nd December at Swinnerton Hall, 62, Gibbon Road, Kingston, KT2 6AB from 11am -2pm. As usual they will offer a warm, welcoming, and inclusive space where people of all ages and backgrounds can come together and meet others from the area.
POST OFFICE "LIGHT"
North Richmond and East Sheen residents will be interested to hear about a new lighter format Post Office branch that the Post Office will be trialling in the area. A selection of postal services will be provided at the counter at Derby Cigar Stores, 561-563 Upper Richmond Road West, East Sheen, London SW14 7ED. The Post Office is currently consulting on the plans. For further information please visit the Consultation Hub - Upper Richmond Road West Drop + Collect.
RICHMOND COMMUNITY TOILET SCHEME
I thought that my constituents would like to know about the Richmond Community Toilet Scheme enables local businesses like pubs, restaurants and shops to work together with the Council to make more clean, safe and accessible toilets available to the public. There are now nearly 50 premises taking part in the scheme. Handy interactive area maps show who takes part in the scheme, what facilities they have and where they are. Participating premises display stickers in their window showing male, female and wheelchair accessible Community Toilet Scheme Members. Members of the public can use toilet facilities during the premises opening hours and without the need to make a purchase. Look for the round stickers in shop windows.
CHRISTMAS IN RICHMOND TOWN CENTRE STARTS TOMORROW!
The Be Richmond garden in Whittaker Avenue will be transformed into a Winter Wonderland this Christmas, with the first event there a meet and greet with the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who, Father Christmas and his elves, craft workshops, choirs, bands, face painters and more. The fun starts on Saturday 19th November at 3pm. For more information, see the poster below or visit the BeRichmond website here.