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Richmond Park News: 23 September 2022

RESPONDING TO THE NEW BUDGET

Today, as Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson, I responded to the Chancellor’s ‘mini-budget’. I am very concerned about the extremely high level of borrowing required to fund the tax cuts that the Chancellor proposes, currently estimated at £45 billion. The Liberal Democrats have been calling for an extension to the windfall tax on oil and gas companies to help pay for the energy bill measures announced for households and businesses, which would mitigate against some of the borrowing required to fund these measures. It is extremely concerning that the Government has refused to publish the Office of Budgetary Responsibility forecast for the announcement today; there is a clear lack of evidence supporting the Chancellor’s claims that his proposals will lead to significant economic growth, in addition to a wider lack of scrutiny on these proposals.

In my speech, I chose to tackle the Chancellor directly on how his budget will help ordinary families access the public services on which we all rely. I have received significant correspondence from constituents about the struggles they face to get a GP appointment, find school places for their children or see a dentist. The latter issue was highlighted by data revealed by the Liberal Democrats this week which showed that only 3/10 adults in Richmond Park had seen an NHS dentist in the past 2 years as of 2021. This was down from nearly 6/10 in 2019. I was therefore disappointed that the Chancellor refused to directly address my question, choosing to revert back to his ideological position that growth at the top of the economy will trickle down to the rest of society. Should you wish to view my question in the House, you can do so here.


ENERGY SUPPORT FOR BUSINESSES AND OTHER NON-DOMESTIC CONSUMERS

On Wednesday, the Government released further details about the support available to help businesses with their energy costs via the Energy Bill Relief Scheme. This support will also be made available to other non-domestic consumers such as charities and public sector organisations such as schools and hospitals. More detail is available here.


I have spoken to many struggling small businesses over the last 3 months who expressed grave concern for their future viability in light of soaring energy costs, and I am very pleased that the Government has finally taken action. However, the Government has no plan beyond the six months that the support is available for, which leaves businesses unable to invest or plan for the future. The Liberal Democrats are calling for support for high streets and public services to be in place for at least the next year, and to include measures to improve energy efficiency and cut bills in the long term.

I have been contacted by a number of constituents whose homes are connected to heat networks (also called communal heating systems.) In such networks, the managing organisation has a commercial energy contract with the supplier, rather than each individual household having their own contract.


Households on heat networks are not protected by the energy price cap, and are not eligible for the support targeted at standard domestic energy contracts. The Government promised those on heat networks would receive support 'equivalent' to other domestic consumers, but yesterday's announcement revealed that they will actually receive support second-hand through suppliers. Managing organisations will be eligible for the Energy Bill Relief Scheme designed for businesses. That means a six month price freeze, rather than the two year guarantee other households will receive.


I have written to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy alongside my colleague Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham, to call for immediate clarification and for homes connected to heat networks to receive support that is truly equivalent to other households. You can read our letter here.

REPAYMENT OF UNIVERSAL CREDIT CLAIMS

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Government relaxed verification checks for Universal Credit (UC) claims. Delayed checks are now being carried out and as a result a number of UC claims made at the start of the pandemic have recently failed, resulting in claims being closed. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is seeking repayment of the UC claimed, which is placing an undue burden on claimants. I have heard multiple first-hand accounts of UC debt repayments driving use of foodbanks, destitution and homelessness.

I have written to the DWP alongside my Liberal Democrat colleagues to urge the Department to reconsider their policy of chasing debt that is owed purely because of their own changes to verification policy. We fear this debt is extremely damaging to constituents and strongly believe that if UC was received in good faith, claimants should not be liable to repay the debt if they fail verification checks which were delayed through no fault of their own.

Furthermore, there is a lack of information provided to claimants on the reason why DWP have decided that their UC award was an overpayment, and also on how they are able to challenge this. You can read a copy of our letter here.



HAMMERSMITH BRIDGE


With the cabinet reshuffled, the former Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps has been replaced by Anne-Marie Trevelyan. On September 9th 2020, Mr Shapps vowed to "take control" and get the bridge "fixed and reopened". While I'm pleased that the stabilisation works are underway and progress is being made, Mr Shapps failed to keep this promise, prevaricating at every turn and placing the onus for the repairs on the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.


This week, I wrote to Ms. Trevelyan asking her to do better than her predecessor. In my letter I outlined the need for scrutiny over any potential plans for a toll to be introduced. We need a meeting of all stakeholders, from both sides of the river, to ensure that any costs associated with the toll will not hurt the residents of Richmond Park, who have already struggled so much due to the bridge's closure. You can read the full text of my letter here.



IN MEMORY


On behalf of my constituents I went to a number of services for Her Majesty the Queen last weekend.


On Friday I joined my Tamil constituents at a service at the Sri Raja Rajeswari Amman Temple in Stoneleigh along with Kingston and Surbiton MP Ed Davey. On Sunday afternoon, I was pleased to join fellow Parliamentarian Ruth Cadbury at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha to join my Sikh constituents for their remembrance and prayers for the Queen. Then in the evening I joined Twickenham MP Munira Wilson to participate in the Richmond Mayor's Civic service of Commemoration at St. Mary’s Church, Twickenham.


It was touching to see how the Queen was remembered with equal admiration by different communities. It was a privilege indeed to represent Richmond Park as I paid respect to Her Majesty with each.



I know that my constituents will also be sad to hear the news of the death of Hilary Mantel, best known for her trio of novels about one of Mortlake’s most famous residents, Thomas Cromwell. The backdrop to the final book in the series, the Mirror and the Light, is the building of his magnificent new house at Mortlake. There is an interesting entry on the webpage of the Barnes and Mortlake History Society about what became of the house here.


If you haven’t already read the trilogy, I thoroughly recommend them, and if you have, I encourage you to try ‘A Place of Greater Safety’, one of the best books ever written about the French Revolution.



COFFEE MORNINGS AROUND THE CONSTITUENCY


Parliament will be in recess for the Conservative and Labour party conferences soon, giving me the chance to get out into the constituency to speak with residents. I will be hosting coffee mornings in north Kingston, north Richmond and Mortlake in the coming weeks, with a coffee morning in East Sheen to follow in November. It is always a pleasure to converse with my constituents and I am very much looking forward to these events. Confirmed dates are:


Mortlake Thursday September 29 at 10:30am

North Kingston Thursday October 6 at 10:30

North Richmond Friday October 7 at 10:00


You can register for any of the above events here.



NOMINATE A LOCAL COMMUNITY PUB HERO


I have been asked to nominate a pub in my constituency for the Community Pub Hero Awards, which recognise licensees and teams who go the extra mile to support their communities. This could be by running community events, raising money for charity or providing support for vulnerable groups. Shortlisted finalists will be invited to participate in an awards ceremony held in Parliament in the new year, when the overall winner will be announced.


To nominate a pub, please fill out the short form here. Let me know why you are nominating your pub and what they have done for the community. We have a vibrant and public-spirited hospitality industry, and I look forward to receiving your nominations.



RAIL STRIKES


Strikes by South Western Railway staff will continue on October 1st with much of the network closed and a highly reduced service running on most lines. Almost all stations in the constituency will be closed, with only Barnes and Barnes Bridge operating. Outside of the constituency, Kew Bridge, and Surbiton station will also be running extremely reduced services for those who have to travel.


SWR is advising that customers should only travel by train if absolutely necessary and should look for other ways to reach their destinations. You can read more about the strikes here.



AUTUMN COVID BOOSTERS EXTENDED


More people are now eligible for a seasonal COVID-19 booster (autumn booster). This can be booked online for anyone who is:

  • aged 65 or over

  • pregnant

  • aged 5 to 49 and at high risk due to a health condition

  • aged 5 to 49 and lives with someone who has a weakened immune system

  • aged 16 to 49 and is a carer

  • a frontline health and social care worker

Click here for more information about COVID-19 jabs.



GP REFERRALS SURVEY

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Healthwatch England is running a survey for people who have needed a referral from their GP to other NHS services and have struggled to get one. In particular they would like to hear from:

  • People with long term conditions

  • Women

  • People on lower incomes

Click here to fill in the survey, which is open until 30th September.


FAMILY RIGHTS ADVICE


Family Rights Group’s Advice Service is for parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. Their expert advisers are experienced lawyers, social workers or family rights advocates. They support families to understand the law and child welfare processes when social workers or courts are making decisions about their children. The service is free, independent and confidential. Services include:

  • Easy-to-follow online information

  • Online forums where families can receive advice, discuss issues, and find support

  • A free telephone advice line open Monday to Friday between 9.30am and 3pm on 0808 801 0366. For Textphone dial 18001 followed by the advice line number.

If you are a parent, relative, friend or kinship carer of a child who is involved with children's services and need support, you can find out more about Family Rights Group by visiting their website at www.frg.org.uk.



RICHMOND NEWS


BARNES BOOKFEST


It's not too late! This year’s Barnes BookFest is taking place in Barnes this weekend. The event brings some of Britain's best writers and most engaging new authors to locations in Barnes for a full programme of talks and discussions. You can see the full programme of interesting talks here.



RICHMOND SAFE SPACE


I am pleased to let you know that funding has been allocated to continue providing the Safe Space marquee outside Richmond Station until the end of the year. This has been a popular spot for people enjoying the nightlife in Richmond on a Friday or Saturday to seek support and assistance from Met Police officers or just talk with them about issues of concern. Pop in and say hello to them on your next night out in Richmond!



KINGSTON NEWS


HOUSING STRATEGY CONSULTATION


Creating improved council housing, providing new supported and adaptive accommodation and working more closely with private landlords are three of the priorities that form part of Kingston Council's new vision to meet the growing housing needs and aspirations of residents. This approach to having the right mix of good quality housing of all types, sizes, and tenures is the focus of Kingston’s Interim Housing Strategy. The draft strategy, which has now been launched for engagement, demonstrates the council's commitment to building new and affordable homes.


To give your feedback on the strategy, visit the online engagement portal, or call 020 8547 5003 to respond verbally or request a printed copy of the survey. Surveys must be completed by 19 October 2022. Following this consultation, the draft Interim Housing Strategy will be updated and taken to the Place Committee for decision in November 2022. The strategy is set to run from 2022-2025.



TEA AND TREATS


Tea and Treats has announced its next event. They will be welcoming new and regular visitors on Friday 7th October at Swinnerton Hall, 62, Gibbon Road, Kingston, KT2 6AB from 11am to 2pm.


Tea and Treats offers a warm, welcoming, and inclusive space where people come together and meet others from the area. They welcome people who live on their own and feel like a change of scenery or a free cup of tea, carers wanting to take a friend or relative out, newcomers to the area, refugees, or people who prefer to sit on their own and enjoy a free lunch of nutritious soup followed by delicious homemade cake. Please stop in and join them.






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