On Wednesday the Chancellor announced his Spring Statement, a mini-budget which struggling families hoped would provide some kind of assistance as we enter a devastating cost-of-living crisis -- one that may bring the biggest fall in living standards since records began in the 1950s.
The Liberal Democrats are clear about what we think this kind of help should look like: a windfall tax on the super profits of oil and gas companies that could raise billions to help people with their energy bills, and an emergency cut to VAT that would put £600 back in the pockets of the average family. To see neither these policies, nor any other measure that addresses the scale of the crisis, was disheartening.
One of the Chancellor’s announcements was an increase to the threshold at which people will start paying National Insurance. However, upon closer inspection I noticed that this change will not come into effect until July, whereas the new National Insurance rise begins in April. This means that for three months, families will feel the full force of the tax hike without any cushioning from the raising of the threshold. Liberal Democrat analysis shows this delay will result in families facing an extra tax bill of £2.1bn.
COUNCIL TAX ANNOUNCEMENT
Many constituents have been in touch to ask me about their council tax bills, which are due to increase by 1.99% in Kingston and 1.94% in Richmond for 2022-23. There will also be an increase in the amount charged by the Greater London Authority for police, fire and transport services across London, which is billed alongside the council tax. Of the rises, 1% is being charged through the social care precept - additional money that local authorities are allowed to charge specifically to meet the cost of its social care obligations. Only 0.99% in Kingston and 0.94% in Richmond will be used to pay for local services, and this is in the context of inflation rates that are expected to hit historic highs of 8% later this year.
Local authorities receive income from a variety of sources, including central government grants, business rates retention and fees and charges for specific services. Council tax is charged to residents to make up the remainder of the income required to pay for services, and is levied on households depending upon their property band. Property bands were set in 1991, according to market valuations on that date
Richmond and Kingston are two of just three councils across London to get no central government funding (via a Revenue Support Grant) at all, which means they need to collect a much greater proportion of their income via council tax. The means of allocating Revenue Support Grant are somewhat opaque, but levels of deprivation are a key factor. You can see from this graph how much central government money is allocated to London boroughs.
Kingston gets no revenue support grant because the Conservative-led council opted out of receiving it in exchange for a greater proportion of business rates in 2015. However, as the chart shows, Kingston continues to receive a comparatively low proportion of its business rates collected, compared to other London boroughs.
Are there alternatives to raising council tax when the cost of living is so high? Surprisingly, the Conservative opposition in Richmond did not offer an alternative plan to the administration’s proposal. The Conservative opposition in Kingston proposed to cut services to support victims of domestic violence and measures to combat climate change, which would only have saved residents a few pounds each but would have had a considerable impact on vulnerable people and the Council’s net zero targets.
I know that people are finding it tough to manage bills at the moment and I have included some information on measures that may help on my website here.
PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE – NEW PANDEMIC REPORT
On Wednesday, we published a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report on government preparedness for the pandemic. The report makes for truly uncomfortable reading, shining a light on just how underprepared the UK government was. Not only does the report expose limitations in how our government manages risks, but it highlighted its inability to learn from both simulation and real-life incidents; incidents which should have provided critical guidance that might have saved lives and protected businesses.
The Government’s poor handling of the pandemic is attributable to the vacuum of leadership and accountability at its centre. To ensure that the next pandemic is not as deadly as this one, this needs to be addressed and robust cross-government leadership must be introduced. It is also clear there is much work to be done in terms of how the government communicates to the public in times of crisis. We need to ensure that all messaging is accessible to non-experts and lends itself to practical action.
You can read the report in full here.
HAMMERSMITH BRIDGE STABILISATION WORKS
On Tuesday the government confirmed that it will fund up to one-third of the costs to stabilise Hammersmith Bridge. This is, of course, welcome news, but I’m afraid the self-congratulatory manner in which the announcement was made belies the reality of the situation. A cost-sharing deal between the Department for Transport (DfT), Hammersmith & Fulham Council (LBHF) and TfL was proposed back in June last year, yet only this week did the government finally underline its commitment.
In that time, the DfT-led Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce has met just four times and spent over £400,000 on a replacement ferry service that was never even launched. As my constituents know only too well, the government’s efforts to reopen the bridge have been grossly inadequate. Any attempt to gloss over that does the people of southwest London a great disservice.
I am strongly urging the government to capitalise on their new-found enthusiasm and work constructively and swiftly with LBHF and TfL to identify and fund an engineering plan for strengthening works (as opposed to the stabilising works the Government referred to this week.) This further strengthening must be done to allow vehicles, especially buses, to once again cross the river.
KINGFISHER LEISURE CENTRE REDEVELOPMENT
Kingston Council recently submitted its planning application for its proposed redevelopment of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre. The new plans include a brand-new, modern community leisure centre offering facilities that benefit everyone.
I’m delighted with just how ambitious Kingston Council's plans are. I am also aware from conversations with the Council that some residents local to the site are concerned about the size of the development and its impact on traffic. I am therefore grateful that the Council is listening to those residents and that they will endeavour to strike a balance that works for all parties.
I’ve already submitted my support and I would encourage as many of my constituents as possible to do the same, so that work can commence and we can start enjoying the new centre as soon as possible. To view the planning application on Kingston Council’s website, click here. To view Transform Kingston’s latest design proposals, click here and to see Kingston Council’s 2022-26 Budget, click here.
Yesterday, during a Transport Committee hearing, the P&O Chief Executive said that Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, met with DP World – P&S’s parent company, last November, and was told of planned changes to its business model. To my mind it is clear that Grant Shapps has serious questions to answer about what he knew and when about P&O's plans to sack its workers in such a distressing manner. I’m calling on him to come before Parliament to answer urgent questions so that P&O workers, and their families, get the answers they deserve. I was pleased to see the Guardian cover my comments.
Moreover, given the Chief Executive’s own admission that they knowingly broke the law, he should be sacked and face a police investigation, with his salary diverted to help guarantee workers' jobs. Hard working families should not be left to suffer as a result of corporate neglect.
CHANGES TO FLIGHT COMPENSATION PAYOFFS
Today Which? has published analysis that shows that government plans to reform compensation rules for flights in the UK that could slash average payouts by £163 per passenger and weaken a vital deterrent against disruptions. I am concerned that this is another instance of Brexit being used to tear up consumer protections. If these regulations are removed, airlines will be better placed to cancel flights, with passengers potentially being left stranded without adequate compensation to cover the costs. I am urging the Government to reconsider these proposals and ensure airlines are mandated to continue providing passengers with the level of reimbursement they deserve should their flight be disrupted.
COFFEE MORNING TO DISCUSS UKRAINE NEXT WEEK
I will be hosting a virtual coffee morning next Wednesday at 9:30 to talk with constituents about Ukraine. If you want to know more about the Government response to the invasion and the refugee crisis, or share your views and/or experiences with me, please do register for the event here.
Kingston Hospital leaders recently contacted me to let me know how the hospital is doing. They report that Covid-19 levels are still rising across both Richmond and Kingston, and being unvaccinated puts you at a much higher risk of hospitalisation. They asked me to urge my constituents to take up any vaccinations they are entitled as soon as they can.
I was also asked to convey that even though mask-wearing requirements have been relaxed, hospital and GP settings are still maintaining strict infection control procedures. Patients should be prepared to wear a clean mask in these settings, to help protect other patients who may be vulnerable to infection. Remember, the person next to you in the waiting room could be a cancer patient whose immune system is compromised. Reducing the spread of infection will also help prevent staff absence and allow the NHS to function at full strength. Please be kind to fellow patients and staff by wearing a mask and following infection control procedures.
The second booster – or fourth jab – is now being rolled out to over-75s and those who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable. For everyone else, here is a brief recap:
Most children aged 12 to 17 can get a second dose from 12 weeks after they had their 1st dose. If your child has tested positive for COVID-19 they need to wait 12 weeks before they can have a COVID-19 vaccine. This starts from the date of their positive PCR test.
Those aged 18+ can get a second dose from eight weeks after their first dose.
Those aged 16 + can get a booster (third) vaccination from three months after their second dose. If you are aged 18+ and have had Covid-19 recently, you need to wait 28 days before you can have a vaccination.
There will be a special pop-up information and vaccination event at LiveWell at Kew, Quadrant House, Levett Square, Kew, TW9 4FF on Thursday 7 April from 11am – 6pm. Anyone who is hesitant to have the vaccination because they have questions or concerns can come along and discuss their worries with an expert NHS team in a private and confidential area. There will be no pressure to have the vaccine on that day, but the facility will be there if people want it. Anyone aged 12+ who is due any of their jabs will be able to come in throughout the day. No appointments are required.
For more information about walk-ins vaccination centres click here
Or you can book your vaccination appointment using the NHS website here.
NOMINATIONS FOR NHS PARLIAMENTARY AWARDS
Nominations for the NHS Parliamentary Awards are now open. The NHS Parliamentary Awards were launched in 2018 to celebrate the NHS’ 70 birthday and recognise the outstanding contribution of staff, volunteers and others working in the health and care sector.
I am asking my constituents to let me know if you have a local NHS service you would like me to nominate for an award. I can nominate a person, group or organisation from any of our local providers: Kingston Hospital, GP surgeries, community health care teams, Southwest London St George's or specialist services. Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you or someone in your family has received exceptional care from a particular person or team and you would like to see their work recognised.
I was also pleased to hear this week that the Care Quality Commission’s National Maternity Survey 2021 has placed Kingston Hospital’s maternity service as the top performing maternity service in London. Congratulations to all the midwives, nurses and doctors whose outstanding work has earned them this well deserved award.
RICHMOND BRIDGE PEDESTRIAN CROSSING
I was pleased to see the new zebra crossing installed on Richmond Bridge last week.
The Richmond end of the bridge outside the Odeon has been a dangerous crossing location for many years and I am relieved that pedestrians will now have a safe way to cross the road there.
GRANTS FOR RESIDENTS TO FUND JUBILEE CELEBRATIONS
Residents, local groups and organisations are encouraged to apply for a Jubilee Grant to organise local events to celebrate this year’s Platinum Jubilee. Grants of up to £500 are open to neighbour groups, voluntary groups and community groups to cover the costs of hosting events like a street party or take part in The Big Jubilee Lunch. An application for a free street closure must also be submitted.
Grants of up to £1,000 are also available for groups looking to host larger celebration events and commemorative activities (including those that have a long-lasting impact) such as a concert or a commemorative mural. This grant can also support school celebrations.
See full details of available funding and how to apply.