Like many of you, I have watched the unfolding crisis in Ukraine with increasing alarm and sadness. The scale of tragedy that has already started to emerge as a result of Putin’s aggression is appalling.
We are witnessing a terrible crisis unfold before our eyes, with queues of desperate people seeking refuge from Russian forces. We need to commit to doing our part to help displaced Ukrainians, both in their own country and here in the UK if necessary. The UK has a proud history of providing sanctuary to those fleeing war and persecution. We must not turn our backs on the people of Ukraine in their hour of need.
It is also clear that we must impose upon Putin the most punitive of sanctions. While I welcome the additional measures announced on Russian companies and individuals yesterday, far more must be done. In particular, the absence of Gazprom and Rosneft, part-owned by BP, undermines the UK’s action. Russia’s state-owned oil and gas giants stand to profit from this war and soaring prices. We must start treating Putin’s Russia like the rogue state it is and immediately cut off UK investment in these firms.
REMOVAL OF COVID-10 MEASURES
I am apprehensive about the Government bringing to an end the legal measures that have helped us to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. I encourage my constituents to continue to exercise caution in their day to day lives, if only to help protect those who cannot be vaccinated or whose immune systems are compromised. Please isolate yourself voluntarily if you know you are, or think you might be, infected.
Case rates are still edging downwards, which is good news, of course. But they remain high, and will continue to be high for some time. We may even see a new spike in the coming weeks as the removal of measures is reflected in increased transmission. The number of deaths each week is falling slowly, but we still lost over a thousand Britons to Covid-19 last week. I ask everyone to do their part to keep these numbers going in the right direction and protect vulnerable members of our community. More information about the latest guidance can be found here.
PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE REPORT ON PUBLIC MONEY LOST TO FRAUD AND ERROR
On Wednesday we published our latest Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report, which looked into the government’s response to the pandemic. We found that the taxpayer was exposed to substantial financial risks from fraud and error. Government estimates suggest that losses due to fraud and error from the furlough alone will be £5.3bn. The estimated loss due to fraud and error across all response measures is not known, but is expected to be at least £15bn across measures implemented by HM Revenue & Customs, the Department for Work & Pensions and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
This is a shocking level of waste, from a Government that was woefully unprepared and disorganised throughout the pandemic. Future generations will now be left to pay for minsters’ inability to close the system to fraud and misuse. To read the report, click here.
SMALL BUSINESS SURGERY FOR BREXIT-RELATED ISSUES
I am keen to hold another online small business surgery to find out how my constituents who trade with the EU are coping with the new Brexit regulations. I held a number of these last year and they were extremely useful in informing me of the challenges people were facing. As we are now over a year into the new trade deal, with new import controls introduced last month, I am eager to hear how people are faring. The Department for International Trade is also going to be announcing some new resources and measures over the coming weeks, and I want to explain to my constituents what new support may be available to them. To register your interest for a late-March date, please email email@example.com.
SOUTH WESTERN RAILWAY SERVICES
On Monday, the vast majority of South Western Railway’s (SWR) services were reinstated following their temporary consolidated Omicron timetable. I have recently been speaking with ITV News London to bring as much attention as possible to the plight of constituents who have been impacted by the change. A small film crew joined me on my morning commute on Tuesday to find out what I thought about the changes and what we need to see from SWR moving forward. We need a full service timetable in order to get London’s economy moving again, and to encourage people out of their cars and onto public transport. We have Net Zero goals to achieve and transport will be absolutely integral to our success. To watch the piece, click here.
RICHMOND CHARITIES VISIT
I enjoyed a most interesting visit with The Richmond Charities earlier this week. It was lovely to meet chief executive Juliet Ames-Lewis and trustees to hear about their history and current plans, and the valuable contribution they make to housing those on low incomes in the borough.
The Richmond Charities have been housing and supporting elderly people in housing need in our borough for over 400 years. The Richmond Charities owns and runs 140 almshouses spread over ten estates in Richmond and Twickenham. They also run three small welfare charities that support those in need in the borough. You can see more about their inspiring work here.
COST OF LIVING CRISIS
I know how concerned many of my constituents will be about the cost-of-living crisis. I’ve pulled together a page on my website containing useful links and resources, which I hope will help those who are struggling. If there is any additional information or support that you need, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOMEBASE/MANOR ROAD UPDATE
Richmond residents may recall that North Richmond ward councillors Richard Warren, Nancy Baldwin and Richard Pyne and I successfully pushed for the recent consultation on this development to be extended. The consultation ended on the 10th of February and the application is now sitting with the Mayor of London for a decision.
We have fought hard against this application, highlighting misleading information about the application on the Greater London Authority website. The Councillors' extensive set of objections to the revised scheme points out that it is oversized and intrusive and will burden local transport and services. The Council's petition against the development now has 2,500 signatures.
Richmond Council refused permission for the original proposals in 2019. Not agreeing with that decision, Mayor Khan called the application in, making himself the final adjudicator, because he believes a large high-rise development should be built on the site. The developer came back with revised proposals for an even larger scheme, a few months later, and Mayor Khan indicated he intended to grant permission. The Mayor then asked for further revisions to be made, appearing to accept points made by Cllr Warren and residents at his hearing in October 2020 that public transport accessibility levels had been overstated by the developer, and that the scheme had too few truly affordable homes.
Unfortunately, the new proposals are essentially the same as those presented in October 2020. Together with North Richmond councillors, I will continue to press Mayor Khan to refuse permission for this un-neighbourly scheme.
Following my recent coffee morning in Barnes I recognise that there is still an issue with buses, particularly the 533 bus. I asked TfL to look into it and, following an internal conversation, they have confirmed to me they are making an assessment. They aim to have a decision made by the 18th of March. As soon as I hear more I will provide an update.
Separately, on the 378 service, the Council have confirmed that changes are being made to the white line markings at the Mill Hill Road/Rocks Lane junction in order to better provide for the service to make the sharp left turn from Rocks Lane (southbound) into Mill Hill Road (eastbound). They have told me that these works will be completed by the end of March, but that TfL remain responsible for the operation of bus services and timelines for bus routing. Again, I will be sure to provide an update once I hear more.
I have also arranged to have a meeting with Sebastian Dance, the new Deputy Mayor of London for Transport, to discuss the bridge and establish where I can help progress the situation.
I was pleased to see today that Richmond Council has approved Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s stabilisation planning application, meaning the works can now commence. They are expected to last until around October, during which time cyclists will have to dismount and walk across the bridge.
Last month I submitted a Parliamentary Question to the Cabinet Office to ask whether there was a cost to the public purse from expenditure on alcohol, food, suitcases and/or a fridge at the gatherings being investigated by both Sue Gray and the Metropolitan Police. In a brief response, I was told the answer was “no”. However, the fact that the question even needed to be asked is a damning indictment of the Prime Minister. It also brings into question the government’s claim that these were “work events”. If they were, why were the items being privately brought? Given the outrage among my constituents at the disregard for lockdown rules in Downing Street, I was pleased to see the question gain some attention in the press, including the Independent.
REACTION TO GOVERNMENT PLAN ON IMPERIAL UNITS
It was recently announced that the government is to launch a study of the economic benefits of reintroducing imperial units of measurement, to quantify what they’re hoping will become an advantage of Brexit. It is one of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s first ventures in his new role as minister for Brexit opportunities.
Imperial-only labelling fell out of business use when Britain joined the European common market in the early 1970s. Though I know that some people who remember the old system remain attached to it, in my opinion this out-of-touch move does nothing to advance our economic interests. We must remain mindful of the wider climate that businesses operate in, with national insurance rises and soaring energy bills. This is not the kind of support they are calling out for right now as they look to adapt their trading arrangements across the world.
I spoke with the Independent about this and was clear that instead of wasting taxpayer money on these superficial measures, the Government should be focusing on the real issues affecting businesses; like the miles of queues at our ports and the reams of red tape thrown up by the EU trade deal. To read the article, click here.
PROTECT YOUR CHILD AGAINST MEASLES
Parents and guardians of children in Richmond upon Thames are urged to make sure their children are up to date with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Vaccine uptake has decreased across the country, with one in four children in Richmond upon Thames not fully protected by the age of five. This means they are at risk of catching measles.
Measles is an infectious disease that can lead to complications such as pneumonia, and inflammation of the brain. It can lead to hospitalisations, permanent deafness, and, on rare occasions, disability or death.
Measles is highly contagious and spreads easily between people coughing and sneezing. Many children have missed their jabs during the COVID-19 pandemic; they may be more at risk of catching measles if they do not get vaccinated.
The MMR vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine against three dangerous diseases: measles, mumps and rubella. Parents and guardians are urged to ensure their children are up to date and if the child has missed a vaccination, to contact their GP practice. Visit NHS.uk/MMR to find out more about the vaccine.
NEW ACTIVITIES AT HAM YOUTH CENTRE
Ham Youth Centre has written to tell me about two unique opportunities happening at Ham Youth Centre now. They are offering Fencing sessions run by an expert tutor and ex national level competitor, using plastic and metal foils. These lessons are only £5 per session.
They also have a new Orchestra offering - a range of classical instruments young people can use and borrow for free. See more information in the flyers below or here.
KINGSTON LIBRARIES DIGITAL BOOK FAIR
On March 5, to celebrate International Women's Day, you are invited to join Kingston Libraries on their Libraries Facebook Page for a day of live events. Come and meet authors Kate Muir, Faye Brann, Natalie Haynes, Ellen Apsteen and Kate Thompson. You will be able to ask these renowned authors your questions and discover their latest works. Find out more and register.
KINGSTON POLICE BULLETIN
The latest Kingston Police Bulletin is available here. The bulletin is full of useful and interesting information, including the latest crime figures, local initiatives, and some very clear and comprehensive information for anyone thinking of joining the police, including information about the Met Police's own three-year degree apprenticeship, which allows young people straight out of school or college to get a fully-funded BSc degree while training for police work and earning money. There is also information about training programmes for people who already have degrees.