On Wednesday, the Government passed the Finance Bill, which is the accompanying legislation to many of the tax changes announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. As the Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson, I tabled a number of amendments to this Bill:
Stealth tax rises: I tabled an amendment that would require HMRC to write to all those affected by the income tax threshold freezes, whether they're paying more tax than they normally would, or they've been dragged into a higher tax band. People need clarity over the impact that these stealth taxes will have on their tax liabilities. The Government voted against this amendment.
Windfall tax: The Government's windfall tax was introduced too late, and companies such as Shell have been able to avoid paying it by offsetting their tax liability against further oil and gas exploration. I tabled two amendments to the Bill that would have a) required a report on the amount that could have been raised had a windfall tax been implemented in October 2021, and b) required a quarterly assessment of how much revenue has been forgone through the investment allowance, and published the names of the companies that have benefited from it.
Tax on electric vehicles: The Government has removed the Vehicle Excise Duty exemption for electric vehicles, which will raise almost £3 billion by April 2028. This is a huge sum of money that could be invested into our public transport network, or electric vehicle infrastructure, to support the UK’s climate goals. I therefore tabled an amendment that would require the Government to produce quarterly assessments on the impact of the removal of the EV exemption on the UK’s climate change duties, air pollution, EV infrastructure and public transport.
You can read a full transcript of the debate on the Finance Bill here.
SUPPORTING THE UK’S CREATIVE INDUSTRIES
Creative industries rely on intellectual property and copyright laws for their income. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO), which sits within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, is currently proposing to introduce an exception to copyright in order to promote Artificial Intelligence (AI). This exception is labelled ‘Text and Data Mining’.
These proposals would be damaging to creative workers, such as in the music and publishing industries, as AI companies would be able to use their works without permission or payment. This would lead to a huge transfer of value from the creative industries to AI companies and also potentially damage the competitiveness of our world-leading creative industries.
I was encouraged to hear Julia Lopez, a Minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, tell a Lords select committee last week that she was confident the Text and Data Mining proposals will not go ahead in their current form. At DCMS oral questions in Parliament on Thursday, I asked the Minister what steps she will be taking to ensure that any proposals to promote AI do not cause economic harm for the creative industry. I also asked that she provide an update on her conversations with the IPO, including detail on their plans to extend the consultation on these proposals. You can see a clip of my contribution here, and read a transcript of question and response here.
I will continue to work alongside industry groups to ensure that the Government listens to the concerns of creative workers and does not press ahead with their current proposals. Please do get in touch with my office if you have any concerns related to these proposals.
PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE WORK
This week, I was the Lead Member on the Public Accounts Committee sessions on ‘NHS Backlogs and Waiting Times’, and ‘Progress Combatting Fraud’. These sessions give the Committee the opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s handling of taxpayer money, and allow us to question senior civil servants and other officials.
On Monday’s session, I challenged the Department for Health and Social Care on growing NHS waiting times in Richmond Park. I was pleased to find out that South West London has the lowest number of people waiting more than 78 weeks for treatment, at only 2% of the waiting list, highlighting the quality of service we are lucky to have in the local area. The committee heard more about the challenges around workforce and complexity, but also about innovative new approaches enabled by new technology.
On Thursday, I took the opportunity to question officials at the Home Office and the National Crime Agency, about the effectiveness of the government’s activity to combat fraud. This is a growing problem across the UK for both business and individuals, and it is incredibly important that the Home Office’s new ‘Fraud Action Plan’ is sensible and protects those who could be at risk.
If you would like to read more about my work on the Committee, or any of the current inquiries which we have open, you can do so here.
SMALL BUSINESS HOSPITALITY
Local publicans raised a number of concerns to me at a roundtable I hosted earlier this month. These included staffing shortages, declining trade after the festive period, ongoing supply chain issues and opposition to businesses rates. I wrote to the Minister responsible for Hospitality to set out these concerns, and to ask that the Minister give a formal statement to Parliament to detail the steps that the Government will be taking to support the hospitality industry. You can read a copy of this letter here.
Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, and I encourage all of my constituents to show their support for small and local businesses such as their favourite pub, cafe or restaurant this weekend. Christmas is a vital time of year for small business owners, so please support your high street wherever you can by doing your Christmas shopping locally.
Residents in North Kingston have a particularly good opportunity to support local traders with this weekend's Park Road and Coombe Road Christmas Traders Trail. See the map below for all the wonderful activities and goods you can find there between 10am and 3pm tomorrow.
Ham Parade Christmas market is also on tomorrow from 10-2pm. You can find all the well-loved regulars from farm fresh vegetables to locally cured meat by Kew-based Hilton Hams and sustainable, eco-friendly gifts for kids and adults from North Kingston based RIVER+PARK: the sustainable lifestore.
VISIT TO MOGDEN SEWAGE WORKS
Last Friday, I had the chance to visit the Mogden Sewage Treatment Works in Isleworth. It was fascinating to see the process of decontamination in action. The treatment works itself is a remarkable feat of engineering; using a system of bacterial decontamination, heat treatments, and mechanical separation, the site turns raw sewage into effluence which can safely re-enter the water table.
Of course, there are times when the sewage system cannot handle the amount of water flowing through it. During my visit I took the opportunity to question Thames Water on reports of sewage overflowing into the river after heavy rainfall. While the system itself is not perfect, it was interesting to learn that one of the problems facing London's sewage system is a lack of joined up planning between developers and water companies. This can lead to stresses being placed on the sewage system that those responsible for its maintenance are not aware of until it is too late.
I will be following up with Thames Water to learn more about this issue over the coming weeks and explore what measures could introduced to reduce this pressure on London's infrastructure. If you are a regular rower or swimmer using the Thames, you can find out about sewage overflows here.
SUPPORTING SOCIAL HOUSING TENANTS
I have raised the issue of damp and mould in social housing again this week with Kingston Council. I was pleased to hear that they are committed to tackling this and improving how they handle it. They say they have very few complaints about this now and are resolving them quickly. I am still waiting to hear more from Richmond Council about this, but in the meantime I wanted to let my constituents know that this is something tenants have been raising with me since I was elected, and that I actively pursue all cases of damp and mould in social housing when they are raised with me. Please let me know if you need help.
My constituents will be relieved to know that a man has been arrested and charged with the murder of Reece Newcombe on Richmond Bridge last Saturday in the early hours of the morning.
The family and friends of Mr Newcombe will be holding a memorial walk on Sunday 4 December. The walk will begin at Old Deer Car Park at 12:00pm and will proceed around Richmond Green, along Richmond riverside and then up to Richmond Bridge. Small groups will go to the memorial at Ormond Road to pay their respects. Police officers and Council officials will be in attendance during the event.
Please be considerate if you are trying to move through the area at this time.
On Tuesday Met Police launched a new hotline to encourage the public to report corrupt and abusive officers and staff. Calls to the service, which is run by the charity Crimestoppers, can be anonymous. The launch is part of a wider programme to expose those who undermine the Met’s integrity, following recent cases of officers abusing their position.
This fraud line is believed to be the first of its kind in UK policing. The public is encouraged to call 0800 085 0000 or give information online if they know about a Metropolitan Police Service police officer or member of police staff who:
• Provides information or influence in return for money or favours
• Uses their policing position for personal advantage - whether financial or otherwise
• Crosses professional boundaries for sexual purposes
• Abuses or controls their partner, or those they have a relationship with
• Engages in racist, homophobic or misogynistic conduct, on or off duty, in person or online
WARM SPACES IN RICHMOND AND KINGSTON
With cold conditions arriving this week, I wanted to let my constituents know about the Warm Spaces that have been established in both RIchmond and Kingston Boroughs. With the cost of living and energy prices both so high, I know that many residents will not feel they can afford to heat their house all the time.
Richmond has created a directory of all the places available to Richmond residents, so that anyone who is in need knows where they can go to stay warm, enjoy a little company and some hot refreshments. Some venues will also offer activities and access to other services. Click here to see it. Kingston Warm Spaces has a similar information page and map here. I encourage all of my constituents to make good use of these spaces if they are worried about heating bills.
GOOD DIVORCE WEEK
This week is Good Divorce Week, which highlights the crisis in the family courts and raises awareness of the ways families can resolve their disputes away from court, where it is safe and appropriate to do so.
Overstretched family courts are facing huge backlogs, and families are frequently left waiting long periods of time to sort out finances and children's arrangements. If the government funded more early legal advice, more cases could be resolved privately without having to go to court. I have raised the issue of increasing the availability of legal aid in the House of Commons and will continue to call for the Government to address the issue of backlogs in the court system. You can see more about this here.
LONDON AMBULANCE SERVICE SURVEY
The London Ambulance Service (LAS) has asked Healthwatch for advice on how they can improve the care they provide for Londoners. As well as the emergency ambulance service, LAS also provides some 999 or NHS 111 support, when patients are transferred to a doctor, nurse, mental health worker or other clinician.
LAS wants to know how people make decisions to access care, and how the different parts of the health and care system can work together better to ensure patients get the right care, in the right place at the right time. Click here to take the survey if you live in Richmond borough. If you live in Kingston borough,
VOICES OF HOPE ABC PROJECT
Voices of Hope has written to ask me to let my constituents know about their Active Breathing Course. ABC is a free, six-week course devised specifically to help people recover from the impact of Covid-19 and other respiratory illnesses in an enjoyable way. The course is aimed to support those recovering from the effects of Covid, as well as breathlessness, anxiety, fatigue and disordered breathing. The project is based in Kingston but residents of any borough are welcome to sign up for the programme. Details of how to refer yourself or someone else to ABC are here.
KINGSTON'S LOCAL PLAN - FIRST DRAFT CONSULTATION