Last weekend, the Government advised everyone not to travel in and out of eight areas across the country with a high prevalance of a concerning variant of Covid-19. One of these areas is our neighbouring borough of Hounslow, where surge testing and increased vaccination capacity are also in place.
As we still have a long way to go in our vaccination rollout, it is vital that we help contain this localised outbreak and not allow it to spread through Richmond and Kingston. I ask all of my constituents to observe the new advice not to travel into Hounslow unless absolutely necessary. If you need to go to the area, please stay outdoors as much as you can and keep two metres apart from those you meet. It will be even more important for you to test yourself twice a week, and you must self-isolate if you test positive.
Please do book a vaccination appointment as soon as you are eligible, so we can stop further variants from spreading in the community. Everyone aged 32 and over is now invited to book here, and 30-31 year olds can expect to be called any day.
FINANCE BILL DEBATE YESTERDAY
I spoke at the third reading of the Finance Bill yesterday, proposing an amendment that would require the Chancellor to review the effect of the Finance Bill on certain categories of workers after six months. I am particularly concerned about those who work in the supply chain sector, zero-hours and agency workers, and people at the low end of the pay scale who are working remotely. My proposed review would identify any income inequalities arising from the effects of the Government's actions.
The demands of the post-Covid economy will fall most heavily on the most vulnerable workers, many of them unprotected by standard employment terms and working conditions laws. Economic growth needs to include everyone, and the Government has a responsibility to ensure that every worker is protected. We also need to understand the economic impact of the shift in working practices to home working.
I also spoke in support of an amendment concerning IR35 and loan charge calculations. The loan charge continues to cause many of my constituents a great deal of distress, and the proposals contained within the amendment would have benefited them.
Many of my constituents, in good faith and perfectly reasonably, took professional advice in the organisation of their tax affairs and the submission of their tax returns. The Government must ensure that tax professionals are clear about the legality of their advice, and innocent people are not held accountable for advice taken in good faith.
Sadly the Finance Bill passed without either of these clauses, or a number of other important amendments and clauses that would have improved our recovery plan and benefited my constituents. You can read the full text of my speech here or see a short video clip from it here.
DEBATE ON INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL
I also took part in a Westminster Hall debate yesterday on restrictions on international travel. Many of my constituents have been separated from loved ones by Covid-19, in some cases unable to tend to sick or vulnerable relatives, or say goodbye to a dying family member. We need a great deal more clarity on how decisions are made, in particular with reference to which countries are on the green, amber and red lists.
Not knowing the criteria for each list is causing a great deal of confusion both for individuals and for businesses. We all need to be able to plan and to predict -- to look at conditions prevailing in a given country and consider the likelihood of its traffic light status changing. Without clear criteria for each colour, neither the travel and tourism industry nor potential travellers can do this, and everyone suffers.
I am also extremely dismayed at the exorbitant cost of mandatory Covid-19 tests on days 2 and 8 for people arriving from amber countries. For those who need to travel to help their families the additional cost of the tests is unreasonable.
I urged the Government to look more closely at this issue and offer the necessary tests through Test and Trace, instead of requiring people to pay sky-high prices for private tests.
LOSS OF TRADE WITH THE EU
According to Office for National Statistics (ONS) trade statistics released this morning, the Prime Minister's trade deal with the EU has cost us nearly a quarter of our trade with them. As the Liberal Democrats' spokesperson for international trade, I have stated my dismay at these latest figures.
The total trade in goods with EU countries fell by over 23% for January-March 2021, compared to the same period in 2018, before the impacts of Brexit and Covid-19. Goods trade with non-EU countries only declined by 0.8% over that period, so the huge drop in trade is clearly due to Brexit and not the pandemic.
Hundreds of thousands of British small businesses reliant on trade with Europe have been damaged by the sorry EU trade deal. Millions of employees will be worried about their future. The Government must take concrete actions to protect the jobs and businesses that depend on trade with Europe.
The fact that goods trade with non-EU countries is replacing goods trade with the EU is also very bad news for the environment. We need to be reducing the distance that our goods travel, not increasing it.
You can see the ONS statistics for yourself here.
VISIT TO HAM HOUSE
Last Friday I was very pleased to visit Ham House to discuss sustainable tourism. Ham House's gardens have now been peat free and sustainable for ten years. It was also fantastic to hear that they provided produce to the Richmond food bank during the pandemic. Ham House plans to support the new Ham food bank when it becomes fully operational, along with supplying their own cafe.
Having discussed the Environment Bill with Megan Tanner and Jed Dwight at Ham House, I will be asking the Government to explore ways of balancing heritage and environmental sustainability alongside retaining public access to National Trust properties like Ham House. The National Trust has a number of other policy concerns that Megan and Jed raised with me, including their funding formula and the forthcoming changes to planning rules.
This week, I would like to shine my community spotlight on another local baker, Richmond Bakes. The business is run by Jess, who has been providing deliveries of freshly baked brownies throughout the pandemic. You can even get brownies delivered in the post! You can find out more about the business here, or on Facebook and Instagram (handle: Richmond_Bakes).
The Three Peas is a local charity that has been raising money to support refugees struggling in unhygienic and often dangerous camps on Greek islands. Most of the refugees fled conflict in their home countries, arriving over the water from Turkey.
The project began in 2016 and has been going strong ever since, serving 6,000 meals for the refugee community in the camp on Samos over Ramadan and raising £5,500. The money raised will go towards supporting Project Armonia, the project's Samos partners who cook and distribute food to families in need. You can see more about Three Peas and donate to their work here.
If you would like me to shine my Community Spotlight on you or someone you know, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
AGE UK ADVICE ON AVOIDING SCAMS
With online scams becoming more common, it’s important that my older constituents know how to protect themselves when using the internet and social media. Age UK has created a useful guide for older people on how they can protect themselves from online scams. The guide includes information on the different types on online scams, and how to identify:
The guide also has resources to help older people shop and bank safely online, as well as how to protect their privacy on social media. I encourage residents to make use of this valuable resource.
DONATE YOUR OLD FOOTBALL BOOTS
A new Football Rebooted campaign has been created to recycle football boots and astro boots. Anyone with spare football boots or astro boots can request a freepost ‘boot bag’ to donate their boots.
The donated boots will appear at one of the claim stations that will pop up in parks, training grounds, and at larger football clubs.
I'm sure the claim stations will be a welcome sight to every parent who can't afford to keep their child in football boots. This is a new initiative, so please support it if you have any boots in the house that your child has grown out of before wearing them out.
VINEYARD CAFE REOPENS
I was pleased to hear that the Vineyard Community Cafe reopened this week in Richmond, operating Monday to Thursday from 12:30 - 4:30. The Vineyard Cafe is a truly inclusive and communal space, open to everyone in Richmond; marginalised individuals, local residents, members of the business community and visitors to the borough will all find a warm welcome and a delicious meal.
They sell homemade soup, sandwiches, omelettes, paninis, gourmet toast, baked potatoes and a full afternoon tea service that includes homemade cakes. The cafe has a large garden that includes a lawn, summer house and patio areas. Both the garden and café are well equipped to entertain children.
Free WiFi is available. The site also hosts Richmond Foodbank and free weekly activities.
SURVEY OF LOCAL VOLUNTARY GROUPS
Richmond's Council for Voluntary Services (CVS) is keen to hear about local voluntary organisations' recent activities and status. If you run a voluntary organisation, I recommend taking part in their survey.
Richmond CVS will use the survey data to create a picture of the local sector, to enable them to shape their services to help all organisations thrive in the years ahead. Anonymised results will be shared with Richmond Council. Find out more and take part.
COCKS CRESCENT REGENERATION
Residents of New Malden will be pleased to hear about the new public square and pocket park to be built by Kingston Council as the first phase of a significant regeneration scheme in the area. The Maldens and Coombe Planning Sub-Committee agreed proposals for the new community spaces, which will be connected by a pedestrian link. They will be built on part of the former adult resource centre site in New Malden, which is currently vacant.
This forms part of the initial phase of the wider Cocks Crescent redevelopment. Construction works for the square, pedestrian link, and pocket park will commence in summer 2021, and will be completed by early autumn.
NEW SCHOOL STREETS IN NORTH KINGSTON
Parents and carers at Latchmere School and St Agatha’s RC Primary School will enjoy safer drop-offs and pick-ups from this week, as a new School Street has been introduced on Latchmere and Dinton Roads.
School Streets limit motor vehicle access during drop-off and pick-up times, supporting active travel by making it safer for children and their families to walk, cycle and scoot to school.
Signs have been placed on approaches informing drivers that they cannot use portions of Latchmere Road and Dinton Road from 8.15-9.30am and from 2.30-4pm during school term time. Residents of the street and Blue Badge holders are exempt (once they have registered their vehicle.) Any vehicles without an exemption that enter the road during the time restrictions will receive a Penalty Charge Notice.
The scheme has been introduced using an Experimental Traffic Management Order, which can last up to 18 months. During this time residents are encouraged to share their views on the School Street by visiting the Our Streets Hub.
The council will monitor traffic in the area throughout the trial period. This data alongside resident feedback will be used to make recommendations on the next steps.