On Wednesday, I responded to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in my role as Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson. I asked the Chancellor why we have been left with the worst of both worlds in which economic growth is flatlining and our public services are on their knees.
Although I welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to keeping the triple lock on pensions and confirmation that benefits will be uprated in line with inflation, there was little else in this statement to ease the cost of living crisis for households, nor to invest in our struggling public services. I was particularly alarmed at the Chancellor’s claim to be cutting taxes. Any savings made through the cut to the rate of National Insurance (NI) from January 2024 will be wiped out by the Government’s decision to freeze income tax and NI thresholds.
I was also concerned that figures buried in a small print of Wednesday’s Autumn Statement have revealed that the Government is cutting annual NHS spending by almost £5 billion in real terms by 2024-25. This comes at a time when urgent action is needed to clear NHS waiting lists. In fact, 400,000 people who were on waiting lists when the Chancellor last delivered his autumn statement were still on them when he came to deliver the budget on Wednesday.
In addition to questioning the Chancellor in the Chamber, I also spoke to BBC Breakfast and Sky News regarding the Statement, where I stressed the urgent need to deliver further funding for our NHS, of which there was shockingly no mention in the Chancellor’s proposals.
Going forward, I will continue to work to hold this Government to account on their abject failure to manage the economy.
DIGITAL MARKETS BILL
On Monday, I spoke in the debate on the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers' Bill, which strengthens the regulatory framework to counter the dominance of tech giants and encourage competition. For too long, smaller start-up companies have been driven out of the market or swallowed up by big tech firms engaging in unfair, anti-competitive market practises. I am very pleased that the Government is finally acting on the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) recommendations.
My colleagues and I were, however, concerned about the countervailing benefits exemption which allows the CMA to close an investigation into a conduct breach if a firm can demonstrate that its anti-competitive practices provide a benefit to the consumer which outweighs the negative consequences for competition. I am concerned that big tech firms may seek to exploit this broad exemption to evade compliance with the regulatory requirements. Therefore, I tabled an amendment which sought to tighten the definition of eligible benefits that a tech firm can claim.
I have linked my speech in the chamber here.
THAMES WATER: TEDDINGTON DIRECT RIVER ABSTRACTION
On Monday, I attended Thames Water's consultation event at the Hawker Centre. This event was particularly significant as it was the only one held on this side of the river and was hosted just a few hundred metres away from the site where the majority of the building work will take place.
While there was some useful information available and Thames Water's representatives were willing to answer most of our questions, I am increasingly frustrated by the tone of these events. The community has made it very clear it will oppose this scheme in all its forms, however, this consultation asked residents to select a pipeline route they would most prefer. This places respondents in the impossible position of selecting whether they want to live with months of noise, or if they would prefer their neighbours to bear the brunt of the construction impacts.
I have so far received hundreds of emails in opposition to this scheme, but not one message of support for it. The community has been extremely clear, this project must not be built. Thames Water's consultation ends on the 11th of December, you can respond on their webpage here and find my own draft response, which you are welcome to use as a basis for your own, on my website here.
HOUSE OF FRASER RENOVATIONS
On Friday, I met with the team behind the new development at the former House of Fraser site in central Richmond. It is wonderful to see this old building, which used to be a stalwart of the high street, having new life breathed into it by the team there.
While work is now progressing quickly, it was interesting to hear how complicated it is for developers to convert commercial space. Indeed, it became apparent that while Martin, the local man who owns the development, would have liked to include housing in the project, this was nearly impossible due to its commercial status. The first phase of offices and restaurants is expected to be open in March 2024 and I'm sure many locals are eagerly waiting to see the finished development.
POLICING: SOUTH RICHMOND SAFER NEIGHBOURHOOD OFFICERS
A few days ago, I met with the police team responsible for South Richmond Ward which encompasses most of the high street and town centre. While the officers were positive about the steps being made to curb low level crime, I was concerned to hear how much of a problem shoplifting has become for local businesses. While local officers work incredibly hard to keep the streets safe, the slow reaction from response teams has meant criminals are becoming even more brazen.
In more positive news, it was good to hear how the officers' use of partial closure orders, a power which can bar anyone except the owner or tenant of a property from entering, has allowed them to tackle anti-social behaviour (ASB) on residential streets. Due to the high footfall in South Richmond, the ward has one of the highest rates of ASB in our community, and so additional powers allowing officers to tackle this kind of crime are extremely welcome.
UPDATE ON THE FORMER KINGFISHER LEISURE CENTRE
Work on the former site of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre has been progressing steadily over the past few months and I am pleased to report that Kingston Council has brought on the design team from Alliance Leisure and award-winning architect Roberts Limbrick to assist with the project.
The Council intend to hold a number of consultation events and engagement on the proposed designs in the Spring of 2024. I will be updating residents as, and when, there is new information and very much look forward to seeing these designs when they are released. After such a long wait, it is vital that the new centre meets the needs of everyone in the community and I will be keeping a close eye on developments in the project as they progress.
POLICE WHATSAPP CHANNEL: STAY INFORMED ABOUT CRIME IN YOUR AREA
I am very pleased to report that our local police service has just set up a new Whatsapp Channel to keep residents informed about criminal activity, events, and successes in the borough. This is a one way communication system and if you sign up, your phone number, name, and personal data will not be shown to anyone else on the channel.
This initiative is part of the way the police are transforming how they communicate with residents and I am extremely pleased it is going ahead. Eventually the plan is to roll out individual channels to all 18 wards in the London Borough of Richmond, and if it is a success, expand to other areas including Kingston. In our constituency, there is only one community channel in operation serving South Richmond Ward, you can join this group with the link here, and the boroughwide channel with the link here.
CHALLENGING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS
Saturday 25 November, marks the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women which is also called White Ribbon Day. White Ribbon Day marks the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence.
The focus of 2023's event will be to change the story for women and girls and show that while some behaviours may seem harmless, normalising them ignores the very real impact they can have on people in our community. Over the 16 days, Richmond Council will be holding a number of webinars and free training for residents and professionals, culminating in a White Ribbon Walk on the 9th of December through Richmond Town Centre. For more information on any of these webinars, visit Richmond Council's website here.