COUNCILS WELCOME SEND FUNDING AGREEMENT WITH GOVERNMENT
After years of intense lobbying by both councils the Department of Education has finally agreed to address the funding gap in Special Educational Needs and Disabiliities (SEND) provision in Richmond and Kingston. For many years now neither council has received enough funds from central government to cover the services they need to provide to children with SEND, and the shortfall has grown every year. The councils have struggled to meet these obligations from their own funds, which are already overstretched. The new agreement will address this shortfall.
The five-year funding plans will see Richmond Council receive an additional £6m of funding by the end of the current financial year. Further payments will be spread over the following four years with the aim of reducing Richmond's £18 million funding gap to zero by 2025. Kingston will be receiving £9 million this year, as well as a debt write-off of £3 million, as their funding gap would have reached £25 million by the end of this month.
The additional payments over the coming years are subject to the councils continuing to make good progress with their SEND Futures plans and will require them to make some contributions from their own resources. The SEND Futures plans, which include proposals to add new local special needs school places and opportunities, will be supported by a Special Commission from the Department for Education and could result in additional capital funding being released.
SEND funding has been a huge problem for many years and I know how important this issue is to my constituents. I am relieved to hear that a solution to this problem has been agreed and I hope that the children of both boroughs will be seeing improved services on an individual level very soon.
SUPPORTING RECOVERY OF THE LIVE EVENTS SECTOR
Yesterday during Questions in the House for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, I enquired about what discussions the Department may have had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on establishing a Government-backed insurance fund to help support the return of live events and cultural festivals. Minister for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage responded to my question, saying that officials in the department "continue to work closely with the affected sectors to understand all the barriers to reopening, including financial support, certainty around the public health situation and the potential challenges of insurance." I followed this up by asking to see the documents related to those discussions, so that we can scrutinise them and be sure that everything that can be done for our vital events sector is being done. You can see the full text of the exchange here.
PROTECTING MARINE WILDLIFE WHILE DEVELOPING OFFSHORE WIND CAPACITY
On Wednesday I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate about the issue of unexploded ordnance on the sea beds in British waters. These weapons need to be disposed of in order to develop our offshore power generation capacity, but exploding them in place is extremely damaging to marine wildlife. Sea blasts can damage or disrupt the hearing of marine wildlife, creatures whose hearing is essential for their navigation, communication and feeding habits. The damage can have a huge impact on whole populations of marine wildlife. Exploding ordnance can also lead to toxic and chemical waste in the water, which has an obvious negative impact on biodiversity.
There are better and safer ways to dispose of these weapons, and we need the Government to update its guidance in this area. Offshore wind is an essential part of getting us to net zero, but we can and must develop it without damaging marine ecosystems. You can see my remarks below, or read the text of this interesting and important debate here.
VSO FUNDING CUTS
I wrote to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab this week to adjure him to reverse the recent cuts to the Voluntary Service Overseas organisation. VSO will be forced to shut operations in fourteen countries as a result of cuts to the foreign aid budget. It will have to suspend its Covid-19 response initiative, cutting off support to 4.5 million people, unless the government intervenes. Last month, VSO ended its international citizens service, which provided overseas volunteer placements for 18 to 35-year-olds, including many from disadvantaged backgrounds.
UK aid and development has helped millions and stands as a testament to the best of British values. VSO volunteers are some of our finest ambassadors to the world. We must give them the support they deserve. You can see my letter to Dominic Raab here.
MANOR ROAD DEVELOPMENT
I am very sorry to report that Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has confirmed that he will not call in the Manor Road development application for review. I first wrote to him about this in September 2020, asking him to do so, and to refuse the application on the basis that the oversized nature of the proposed scheme would make it oppressive and overbearing for the rest of the community.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan insists we accept urban levels of height and density here in RIchmond, even though that is wholly at odds with our area’s suburban character. The result is that North Sheen will be left with 453 largely unaffordable flats crammed into blocks up to eleven storeys high. Mayor Khan insists North Sheen can absorb a large-scale property development. I strongly disagree. Transport for London withdrew two bus services from Manor Circus and cut the number of buses running on a third route in December 2020. North Sheen station’s lack of step free access has not been addressed, nor have the inevitable parking issues this development will cause.
Richmond Council is doing all they can to mitigate this disaster, but are powerless to stop Mayor Khan from overriding their refusal to grant planning permission unless the Government steps in. I have written to Robert Jenrick to express my frustration about both this development and the similarly excessive Stag Brewery site development. I will continue to support the Council in making decisions that reflect the wishes and interests of local residents. You can see my letter to Robert Jenrick here.
CENSUS DAY ON SUNDAY - REMEMBER TO SUBMIT YOUR FORM!
Taking part in the census will help make sure we get the services we need here for the next ten years and beyond. The information gained in the census helps provide the best picture of the needs of everyone in England and Wales. Local authorities and charities use this picture to plan and fund services, including transport, education and healthcare. You are required by law to complete the census.
Please have a look at this video for more information about the Census. You should have received a packet in the post with instructions for how to participate. Instructions for filling in your form online can be found here.
VIRTUAL COFFEE MORNING NEXT WEDNESDAY
My next virtual coffee morning will be on Wednesday, March 24 at 10:00. If you would like to join me for a brief update on what I am doing as your MP followed by an informal discussion about local and national issues, please sign up for the event here.
FUTURE OF LONDON TRANSPORT PANEL DISCUSSION
You are also welcome to join me for a fascinating discussion of what London transport might look like in a post-Covid city in the evening on Wednesday March 24, from 7:00 to 8:30. I will be joined by London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon and aviation economist Peter Morris for this discussion, and I know my constituents will be keen to hear their thoughts. You can sign up here.
RICHMOND UPON THAMES VOLUNTARY FUND
Every year the Voluntary Fund selects which vulnerable group it intends to support and raises funds for them. Residents are then invited to donate towards local charities that work hard to offer support in this area of need. The 2021 beneficiaries are local charities Off The Record, Richmond Borough Mind, Dose of Nature and Marble Hill Playcentres. Since the launch in February, thanks to the generosity of local people, over £80k has so far been raised (including Gift Aid) for local mental health care.
Residents can make a donation throughout the year online or by cheque. For more information, or to donate, go to: www.richmond.gov.uk/rvf
If you are concerned about a young person’s mental health, you can find out more information on how to get support by contacting the Single Point of Access team on 020 8547 5008 or by using the SPA referral form at: www.richmond.gov.uk/make_a_referral_to_spa. If you need to speak to someone urgently after hours or at the weekend, call the ‘Out of Hours’ team on 020 8770 5000. More information can be found at www.kr.afcinfo.org.uk
VIRTUAL EVENT ON THE COVID-19 VACCINE FOR RICHMOND BAME RESIDENTS
A panel of health and care experts from across Richmond will be chairing an online question and answer session to help provide reassurance on the COVID-19 vaccine to concerned local people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. For more information and to register for the event please visit the website. The event will take place on Tuesday 23 March between 2pm-3.30pm.
MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD ON KINGFISHER LEISURE CENTRE
Kingston Council is starting to work on plans to renew the historic town centre to make it even better for residents, local businesses, students, and visitors. As part of this, they are proposing to deliver a brand-new, modern community leisure, well-being, and cultural destination on the site of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre. The new centre will be accessible for all our residents and offer a range of facilities that benefit everyone.
They are also looking to make better use of other public assets, including the transformation of the Guildhall campus. The Guildhall is an iconic, historic building, which they want to respect and protect. This is also a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the Hogsmill River, creating a new public space for people to experience and enjoy.
They want to hear from you about what you would like to see in the new community cultural, well-being and leisure destination, and how you think the Guildhall campus could better serve Kingston. You can see more details here.
You can share your views on their early proposals by:
Completing the digital survey: www.transform-kingston-survey-2021.co.uk
Calling the Freephone line on 0800 044 3916
NEW SCULPTURE TRAIL IN KINGSTON TOWN CENTRE