As the year comes to an end, I would like to wish all my constituents a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. I hope you have a chance to relax and spend time with your loved ones, wherever you may be.
However, I know Christmas can also be a very difficult time for many people. Yesterday, I visited the Samaritans office just outside of Kingston Town Centre to learn more about the work they do at this time of year and find out how I can support them in Parliament. I was very privileged to be joined on the visit by my constituent Philip Pirie, who has been fighting an amazing campaign to reform how suicide risk is assessed.
The local Samaritans team is fantastic. They have over 174 volunteers taking calls and answering emails from people struggling across the UK, and they work day and night to ensure everyone has someone to talk to. I was very pleased to hear that they are now considering offering face-to-face visits again, and I look forward to seeing their offering grow even further.
If you need to speak to someone but don't know who to turn to, I would urge you to call the Samaritans on 116 123. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
TEDDINGTON DRA: MEETING WITH DEFRA AND THE ENVIRONMENT AGENCY
This week, I met with Water Minister Robbie Moore MP and Philip Duffy, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, to brief them on the catastrophic impact Thames Water's Teddington DRA project would have on our local community.
In both meetings, I and my colleague Munira Wilson MP made the case that the project will do immense harm to the ecology of the river and severely impact the quality of life of our residents while offering very little in return. While we met with the Minister at DEFRA's offices, I was very pleased Philip Duffy agreed to come to Ham Lands to see the area the project would destroy for himself.
Although neither made a firm commitment to rejecting the project, I did feel that at the end of the meetings both understood the DRA is not the small, inoffensive scheme Thames Water has made it out to be. I will keep fighting to block this scheme and keep doing everything I can to ensure Thames Water does not destroy Ham Lands or the woodland of the Royal Park Gate estate.
CHANGES TO VISA RULES
On 4th December, the Government announced a number of changes to UK immigration policy. These changes included an increase in the minimum salary for a Skilled Worker Visa to £38,700, a ban on care workers bringing dependents to the UK, a review of graduate visas, and an increase in the minimum income required for British citizens to bring a partner or family members to live with them in the UK from £18,600 to £38,700 a year.
My colleagues and I received many emails from constituents concerned about how these changes would impact their families. I therefore co-signed a letter written by my Liberal Democrat colleague Alistair Carmichael which called on the Government to set out the evidence that had guided these new proposals and to answer questions posed on behalf of our constituents.
Yesterday, the Government finally provided further information on how the announced changes will be implemented. I am pleased the Home Office has agreed to stagger the rise in the minimum salary needed to bring family members to the UK, which will now increase to £29,000 in April 2024, rather than £38,700. Full details of changes to visa rules can be found on gov.uk. If any constituents are concerned about how these changes might impact them, please do get in contact with my office.
My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I believe it is vital that the UK’s immigration policy works for our country and economy while treating everyone with dignity and respect. As it stands, I cannot see how these new proposals and arbitrary salary thresholds will achieve that.
CHALLENGING THE PRIME MINISTER ON MISLEADING DEBT CLAIMS
This week, I received a reply to a letter I wrote in November to the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), Sir Robert Chote, to complain about the Prime Minister’s (PM) repeated claims to have ‘reduced debt’ as a percentage of GDP.
My letter, which came in the wake of the Autumn Statement, was a response to a video on X (formerly Twitter) where the PM had made the claims. In his letter to me, Sir Robert agreed that ‘The average person in the street would… likely have assumed that he [The PM] was claiming that debt was already falling or that the Government’s policy decisions had lowered it at the fiscal events – neither of which is the case.’
He then added that Mr Sunak may have ‘undermined trust in the Government' with his claims, and he would be working with him to ensure no similarly deceptive statements are made.
The response was covered by several media outlets, including the BBC, Guardian and the Financial Times, and I am very glad these misleading claims have been addressed by the UKSA. Going forward, I will continue to hold this Conservative Government to account over their appalling economic record.
VISIT TO THE STAG BREWERY FILM STUDIO
Last Friday, I visited the new Film Studio that has been built in the former Stag Brewery. The Story Collective has been based at the site for months now and has produced everything from major dramas to fantasy epics. It was interesting to hear that due to other projects tying up space in the more established sites for years, Mortlake has quickly become a center of film production in London. While you may not be able to get into the site itself, I would certainly look out for a famous face or two when you are in the area.
I was also pleased to hear that staff at the site have been encouraged to go out and use the shops and cafes in the area. With between 500 and 1000 staff working at the site, this should be a substantial boost to the local economy, and I hope to see more companies adopt similar policies in the future.
Residents in Ham and Tudor planning their Christmas Walks or drinks and celebrations in Teddington should be aware that over Christmas, Teddington Lock Footbridge will be fully open 24 hours a day. I know the intermittent closures have been incredibly frustrating to some residents who have been left stranded on the wrong side of the river, and so I am incredibly grateful to Cllr Penny Frost for getting confirmation the bridge will be usable.
MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT
If you are living with mental health problems, some experiences during the holiday period could make your mental health worse or harder to manage. The team at South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust have put together some helpful information about how and where South West Londoners can access support for their mental health over the holidays. It includes the NHS Mental Health Crisis line, details for your local Recovery Cafe or health and wellbeing hub, and how to access NHS Talking Therapies if you feel in need of long term support.
My office will be closed on Monday and Tuesday for Christmas, but please do leave a message at 020 8876 2986 or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will try to come back to you as soon as I can.