The Covid-19 news continues to be positive this week, with London's case rates down 25% from last week. Both Richmond and Kingston now have rolling case rates under 100 cases per 100,000 people. The vaccine is clearly having a positive effect; case rates among Londoners over 60 are now lower than the average rates here. Two million Londoners have now been vaccinated at least once.
However, it is important to remember that we remain in lockdown. We still have high rates of asymptomatic infection in the community, and case rates are not going down as quickly as they were a few weeks ago. Step 1 of the Government's plan to reduce restrictions does not take effect until March 8, and even then the relaxations are very specific and limited.
Schools and colleges will reopen to all pupils, small funerals and weddings will be allowed, and you will be able to meet one person from another household outside. Local public health authorities have asked me to stress to constituents that everything else remains the same for now. You can see the full explanation of their plan here.
NHS London has also asked me to remind constituents not to wait if they think they might need medical attention for something other than Covid-19.
Please do not ignore concerning symptoms or decide to wait until after the pandemic to consult your doctor, have a test, or have recommended treatment.
UBER DRIVERS EMPLOYMENT RULING
The Supreme Court ruled this week that Uber drivers are workers, not self-employed people. The ruling offers hope to gig workers, who have been hit hard by the pandemic. Gig workers have been left out of crucial financial support during the pandemic, including Statutory Sick Pay and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.
I was very happy with the ruling, but I have questions about exactly what his means for Uber drivers and similar workers. I queried this in the House this week, asking how the Government would ensure that workers in companies like Uber would be transferred to legal contracts and compensated for their past treatment. You can see my question and the answer from Paul Scully, Minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, here.
FIRE SAFETY AND THE CLADDING SCANDAL
Earlier this week Parliament rejected an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill which would prohibit the owner of a building from passing on remediation costs to leaseholders and tenants. I was appalled that the Government refused to offer this vital protection to leaseholders, who now face the prospect of financial ruin, trapped in homes they can neither afford to repair or sell.
Leaseholders should not have to foot the bill to make their homes safe -- homes they bought in the reasonable belief that the fire safety standards to which they adhered were adequate to protect them from harm. It is not leaseholders' fault that successive governments kicked fire safety into the long grass over and over again, failing to create robust regulation.
The woefully inadequate safety fund doesn’t address the dangerous cladding on an estimated 2 million homes under 18 metres, nor the many other fire safety defects in countless other housing blocks. I will continue to press the Government to rectify both our regulations and the remediation funding scandal.
There’s been quite a bit of movement this week on Hammersmith Bridge, with two ferry contractors having been shortlisted for the replacement ferry service. I welcome the news that progress is being made, even if it is slower than I would wish.
I am keen not to lose sight of the role the Taskforce has played up until this point. Set up to deliver a quick and workable solution, they nonetheless ruled out plans for a temporary walking and cycling bridge at an early stage, and the government has consistently refused to fund the stabilisation works that would have allowed pedestrian access. I have lost confidence in the Taskforce and have joined with fellow local MPs Fleur Anderson, Andy Slaughter and Ruth Cadbury in writing to Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, to request an urgent meeting. We have also invited Chelsea and Fulham MP Greg Hands to join in our efforts. You can view this letter here.
You will also see in the letter that the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has now submitted a funding plan for the permanent repairs, which we have asked the Department for Transport to expedite.
HEATHROW AIRPORT REPORT AND CONSULTATION
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Heathrow Expansion and Regional Connectivity, of which I am a member, has released its Building Aviation Back Better report. The pandemic has caused a huge crisis in the aviation sector, but has also provided an opportunity to deliver a sustainable future in which we can decarbonise global aviation. You can read the report here.
In other Heathrow news, the government is currently running a consultation on night flights into and out of Heathrow. The consultation focuses on two key areas:
Extending the existing night flights regime beyond its current expiry date of October 2022 until October 2024
Stopping the use of the noisiest Quota Count 4 (QC4) rated aircraft at night.
The deadline for submissions to this consultation is 3rd March 2021.
To take part in the consultation you can send your views by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
or complete the online form here: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/6MJQIF/
COVID-19 VACCINATION FOR PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES
I was pleased to hear this week that the Government has agreed to vaccinate all adults with learning disabilities as part of the current group. People with learning disabilities are more vulnerable to severe illness and death from Covid-19, yet not all of them were on the list for priority vaccination. I am happy this has been rectified and that carers will no longer find they are invited for vaccination before their disabled loved ones.
LOCAL PCR TESTING SITE OPENING IN HAWKER CENTRE
A new local testing site for people with Covid-19 symptoms will be opening at the Hawker Centre in North Kingston over the coming days. This site is part of the drive to open more testing sites that are accessible by foot or by bicycle. They complement the regional drive-through testing network as well as home testing kits, all of which can be booked through the government’s online portal here. PCR tests are available to anyone showing symptoms of Covid-19, as well as anyone who has had a positive result on a rapid-response LFD test.
I'm pleased that my residents in North Kingston, Ham and Petersham will have a more convenient testing location should they develop Covid-19 symptoms or test positive in school-based or community testing.
JOIN ME FOR A VIRTUAL COFFEE MORNING
My next virtual coffee morning will take place on Wednesday March 10 at 10:00. If you would like to join myself and some of your fellow Richmond Park residents for an update on my work as your MP, followed by informal conversation about local and national issues, please book a place here.
FREE INTERNET ADVERTISING TOOL FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB UK) has developed a new free tool to help small and medium enterprises get the most out of digital advertising. The tool helps SMEs either start using digital advertising or use it more effectively, by explaining the different channels within digital advertising, how campaigns can be tracked and measured, and signposting useful resources or partners they might benefit from working with. You can read about what the tool does here or try the tool for yourself here.
NEW ANTI-IDLING CAMPAIGN
Many of my constituents have written to tell me about poor air quality around their houses or their children's schools due to drivers leaving their engine running unnecessarily, for example when waiting at level crossings or outside schools or businesses. It is estimated that up to 4,000 Londoners die prematurely every year due to long-term exposure to air pollution.
In 2020, Richmond Council’s civil enforcement officers engaged with 8,872 idling drivers to raise awareness of the issue and to tell drivers to turn their engines off. Drivers who are approached by officers and who fail to turn off their engines are issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice of £20.
Now Richmond Council is asking residents to support a new London-wide anti-idling campaign. Watch this video to see how you can make a difference. And to support an idle-free borough, sign the pledge and commit to turning off your engine when stationary.
SAFEGUARDING NEWSLETTER CREATED FOR CHILDREN BY CHILDREN
A new safeguarding newsletter has been launched to share children's experiences of lockdown and to signpost young readers to support services should they be needed.
‘In Safe Hands’ was created by local primary and secondary schools in partnership with The Kingston and Richmond Safeguarding Children Partnership. The Primary School newsletter has been created by Year 5 and Year 6 students from Meadlands Primary School in Ham. The Secondary School newsletter has been created by The Kingston Academy.
Meadlands Primary School pupils have shared their feelings towards lockdown and how they are keeping in touch with their friends, as well as top tips on how to keep busy at home and what they are doing to stay active and healthy.
Both newsletters have been carefully designed to provide young readers with easy ways to find and access local support services that will help keep them safe. This includes signposting to bereavement services and counselling services should they be needed now or in the future.
LOOK FOR THE QR CODE ON OVERFLOWING PUBLIC BINS
You may have recently seen QR codes appearing on bins in parks - this is to make overflowing rubbish bins easier to report. Additional bins have been placed in some locations where particularly heavy littering has been noted. If you have a suggested location where you think a bin would be useful, please use this form to submit it.
ACADEMIC STUDY LOOKING FOR DUAL-EARNER COUPLES IN RICHMOND
Dr Mayra Ruiz-Castro, a Senior Lecturer in Ethics at the Roehampton Business School, University of Roehampton has written to say that she is conducting research on the impact of Covid-19 on the working and family lives of dual-earner couples in Richmond and Wandsworth. She wants to understand their overall experience during the Covid-19 crisis, including how they have responded to changes in their working and family lives, navigated the demands from their employers, and engaged with local services.
The research project is funded by the 2020/21 Strategic Priorities Fund programme (UK Research and Innovation.) You can learn more about the project and volunteer to take part here.
NEW READING FRIENDS SERVICE FROM KINGSTON LIBRARIES
My Kingston constituents will be interested to hear about a new service that the great team at Kingston Libraries is offering: Reading Friends. By bringing people together to read, share stories, chat and have fun, Reading Friends aims to reduce loneliness and social isolation.
A Reading Befriender holds regular one-to-one or small group sessions that begin with the reading of a poem, short story, letter or other piece of text to spark conversation and connect people. It is different to a structured book group in that there is no reading to do beforehand. Due to the pandemic these sessions are currently taking place over the phone or online using Zoom.
You don’t need to be an expert in literature – simply have a love of reading you would like to share to make a difference in your local community. If you know someone who would like to become a Reading Befriender or who may like to be part of Reading Friends, more information is on their website.
VACCINATION PANEL DISCUSSION
In partnership with Kingston Race and Equalities Council (KREC), the Council's ‘Let's Get Kingston Vaccinated’ panel will be talking about the importance of vaccination within our communities to help keep everyone safe. The panel includes John Azah, CEO of KREC, Iona Lidington, Director of Public Health, Naz Jivani, GP and Ruth Pombi, Theatre Manager at Kingston Hospital. Questions for the panel can be shared via this Google Form. You can watch the event live on YouTube from 6.30pm on 4 March using this link.