I was relieved to hear the Prime Minister set out a cautious approach when he presented his lockdown exit plan to us in Parliament yesterday. I believe we have been hasty in removing measures in the past and was pleased to see that lessons seem to have been learned.
I agree with the Prime Minister that it is right for schools open first, as part of a data-led relaxation of restrictions. We must prioritise the needs of our children, whose educational, emotional and practical interests are all served by sending them back to school. It is vital, though, that we give schools the guidance and support they need to reopen safely and stay open. This includes funding for testing, PPE and whatever staffing costs arise as a result of self-isolation alerts.
Hopefully we will get the testing programme in schools right this time. Secondary school pupils, who are more likely than younger children to catch and transmit the virus, are to be tested twice a week using rapid-response lateral flow tests, with positive results confirmed by the more accurate PCR testing. Teachers, including staff at private and voluntary nursery settings, will also be provided with bi-weekly tests to administer at home. I have been calling for this to be rolled out to nursery staff for months, and am relieved that this will now be offered to them.
Our vaccination programme is going well in Southwest London, with 288,000 residents vaccinated so far. The new vaccination centres in Twickenham and Kingston are working well and expect to be increasing their pace as we move into spring.
I would like to remind everyone that the current Covid-19 measures apply regardless of whether you have been vaccinated or not. Please continue to follow all guidance and practice good hygiene even after you have been vaccinated. This will help us get the numbers down as fast as possible.
Richmond's case rate is now under 100/100,000 again, and Kingston's is just over 100, so we are doing well here, but the rate of decrease has slowed and we need to stay our course.
URGING GOVERNMENT TO HONOUR FOSSIL FUEL COMMITMENT
I wrote to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) today urging the Government to honour its commitment to banning UK Export Finance funding for fossil fuel projects abroad.
Despite announcing its intention to ban the practice in December 2020, BEIS has yet to implement the ban. As a result, 17 international projects remain under consideration and could be given UK financial backing at any time. This funding runs counter to the commitments made by our government when it signed up to the Paris Agreement in 2015.
This year, we hold the presidency for COP26. The failure of BEIS to follow through with the ban undermines our authority on the international stage. I am urging BEIS to uphold the government’s Net Zero commitments and bring forward the ban on UKEF overseas fossil fuels funding. You can see my letter and more details about this issue here.
PREVENTING HOMELESSNESS BY PROTECTING RENTERS
I raised a question to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in the House yesterday, asking whether the Government had assessed the impact of their plan to end protections for renters at the end of March. They must look at whether it will result in a wave of homelessness. It was apparent from his response that they have not done so.
I am deeply concerned that some of my constituents will be at risk of losing their homes once this protection is removed. I am disappointed that the Government does not seem to be aware of this possible consequence and is not addressing it robustly. I will continue to press them to protect renters and prevent anyone from being made homeless by the pandemic.
MANOR ROAD DEVELOPMENT
Today I also wrote to Robert Jenrick about his recent decision not to step in and review the proposed Manor Road development. I agreed with Richmond Council and local residents that the original scheme was far larger and denser than it should be. I was therefore appalled that the Mayor of London decided to increase the size of the scheme rather than reduce it. The Secretary has said that he is committed to keeping decision-making local, but this decision does the opposite, preventing the Council from standing up for the interests of the borough. You can read my letter here.
HAMMERSMITH BRIDGE - FERRY UPDATE
Transport for London (TfL) has announced that it has received proposals from two bidders in its competition to provide a cross-river ferry