I am very pleased that we will be reaching the next stage in lifting lockdown on Monday, when we will once more be allowed to meet outside in groups of up to six people, or two households. For many of us, social contact has been one of the hardest things to give up this past year. Being able to meet friends or family in a park or garden will be a welcome treat, especially with sunshine forecast for Monday and Tuesday.
We are out of the second wave of Covid-19 now, with the news continuing to be positive. The number of deaths continues to fall both locally and nationally, suggesting that the strategy of vaccinating those most vulnerable to serious illness has worked well. Case rates in the area have not fallen over the past few weeks, but the level they have stabilised at is a low one. Health officials have explained that the virus is still circulating in the unvaccinated younger age groups, even though few become seriously ill.
The vaccination programme is now beginning to deliver second vaccinations to people who had their first doses in January, as well as finishing the rollout to over 50s, carers and people with clinical vulnerabilities. There are still a lot of people in the 50-70 age group who have not yet come forward for vaccination. If you are one of them, please visit this page or call 119 to make your appointment.
OPPOSING THE CORONAVIRUS ACT
Yesterday in Parliament I voted against extending the Coronavirus Act for a further six months. Along with all of my Liberal Democrat colleagues I opposed this Act on the basis that the Government hasn't shown that they need the powers it contains anymore, and neither Parliamentary scrutiny nor civil liberties should be be relinquished lightly. We continue to support all necessary measures to contain the spread of the virus and assist individuals and businesses. However, none of these measures relies on the passage of this bill.
Disappointingly, the Bill was supported by Labour as well as the Conservatives and it passed despite our opposition.
CALLING FOR INFORMATION ON BUSINESS LOANS
I also posed a question to Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Kwasi Kwarteng in the House yesterday. We need to scrutinise the use of public money for government-backed business loans, and we cannot do so without a list of the loans given out on the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme. i noted that such a list was promised some months ago and reminded him that it hasn't been produced yet. The Secretary agreed that he would look into this and provide a list to us soon. You can see my question and his answer here.
NEW ADVANCED RESEARCH AND INVENTION AGENCY
Earlier this week I spoke at the second reading of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) Bill, welcoming this exciting new investment in science and technology. The proposed ARIA agency will be led by scientists with the freedom to identify and fund transformational science and technology. The independent agency will be tasked with funding high-risk research that offers the chance of high rewards, supporting ground-breaking discoveries that could transform people’s lives for the better. The creation of ARIA will be backed by £800 million in funding.
The UK has a long and proud history of science and innovation and I am delighted to see the Government supporting our research scientists to carry that legacy forward. I hope that the creation of this new agency will inspire promising young science students to choose STEM subjects and become our science heroes of the future.
I have a few concerns about how the governing body of this new agency will be constituted, and I am seeking assurance from the Government that new funds are being allocated to this agency rather than diverting funding from important existing research programmes. But I am happy to see the Government supporting this vital growth industry.
JOIN ME FOR A PANEL DISCUSSION ON THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION ON APRIL 13 On April 13 at 7:00pm I will be joined by Daisy Cooper MP, the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Education, and Ian Dodds, Director of Children's Services for Richmond and Kingston boroughs, for a panel discussion on the future of education after Covid-19.
I plan to talk to Daisy and Ian about the ways the landscape of education will be permanently changed by the pandemic. What positives will come out of this experience, and what lessons do we need to learn from it? How will schools cope with future challenges, and what can we do to support our children in their education going forward? The panel will also answer questions from attendees, submitted both in advance and on the night.
You can sign up for this exciting event here.
PROTECT YOURSELF FROM SCAMS
A number of my constituents have contacted me about scams, some types of which have apparently spiked in recent months. I wanted to make sure that my constituents are aware of the scams that fraudsters use and how to protect themselves. I strongly recommend the Met Police's Little Book of Big Scams, which was updated last year. The book contains a wealth of helpful information about all sorts of scams - identity theft, phone cons, door to door scams, banking fraud, etc, with advice for what to look for and what to do if you think you have been targeted. Please read through it and share it with anyone who may be vulnerable to these criminals.
ENTERPRISING TIFFIN GIRLS
Earlier this week I spoke to a group of young women from Tiffin Girls School about a business they have set up selling sewing kits and instructions for ‘upcycling’ clothing. I was very impressed with how they used their passion for the environment to drive their business plan, and I have bought a kit to try for myself at home. You can see their innovative Sew Simple kits for yourself on their website here
We are lucky to have a very effective local chapter of the national charity Home-Start here in Richmond and Kingston. They have written to tell me that they have produced a new video to help make families aware that they can refer themselves to the service if they are struggling. There is no need to go through a GP or health visitor; you can contact Home-Start directly yourself.
I encourage everyone to enjoy their lovely video as a reminder of the support available to local families. Please call them if you are struggling, and share it with anyone you know who might benefit from their help. You can see the video, with their contact details at the end, here.
RAIL TO REFUGE: FREE TRAVEL TRAVEL TO ESCAPE DOMESTIC ABUSE
Rail to Refuge is a joint initiative between rail companies and Women’s Aid Federation of England, in which train operators cover the cost of train tickets for adults and children escaping domestic abuse and travelling to refuge accommodation. At the start of the pandemic last year, all train operators joined the scheme to provide crucial support at a time when domestic abuse was increasing and people experiencing it were finding it harder to leave. Since then, operators have provided free tickets to over 1,348 people, including 362 children.
If you are suffering from domestic abuse and need assistance to get to a place of safety, or you know someone else who is in that position, you can learn about the scheme here.
FREE EXERCISE VIDEOS FROM RICHMOND COUNCIL'S SPORTS TEAM
Richmond Council has produced a series of helpful videos filmed by the Sports team’s Personal Trainers in partnership with the Public Health team. The videos are easy to follow, no longer than 20 minutes and will help everyone to start being active from the comfort of their own homes. Physical activity contributes to a wide range of health benefits and outcomes, and I am glad to see the Council trying to help people be more active. You can visit the webpage and see the videos here.
EASTER ACTIVITIES FOR CHILDREN
Children who receive Free School Meals in Richmond upon Thames will have the chance to take part in a range of free activities during the school holidays, including music production, podcasting, cooking, dance and football. Achieving for Children is providing the activities through its F.U.E.L programme.
Children must be aged 5 to 16 years old and be eligible for Free School Meals to take part in the free programme, which will take place over the Easter school holidays in the borough’s youth centres and other venues. A healthy lunch will be provided to everyone taking part. The F.U.E.L programme will also run over the summer holidays.
ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY QUESTIONNAIRE
Richmond Council wants to hear what you think about various environmental and sustainability issues, in order to make the Borough a greener place to live. Please fill in this questionnaire to let them know what you think. All responses are confidential and all opinions welcome.
BIKE HANGAR CONSULTATION
Richmond Council has just opened a consultation on potential locations for bike hangars in the Borough. The consultation will run until April 30. There are 24 proposed locations for bike hangars, which are secure shared storage lockers for bicycles for people who don't have a place to store a bike safely.
Residents are welcome to complete the online survey and submit their views on the proposed locations.
COVID-19 BOOK OF REFLECTION
To capture the impact of the last year the Council has has launched a Book Of Reflection, giving residents the chance to share their experience of living through a year of Covid, remembering communities supporting each other, families spending time together, and those we have lost. Click here to
CHANGES TO TEST AND TRACE SUPPORT PAYMENTS FOR PARENTS
Parents and carers of children who have been advised to self-isolate by their education setting or by NHS Test and Trace are now able to apply for a Test and Trace Support Payment or discretionary payment of £500, if they meet the eligibility criteria. To find out more click here.
KINGSTON'S VIRTUAL CULTURE CLUB MAGAZINE
The latest edition of Kingston Council's Culture and Heritage Service events magazine for April is now live. There are many virtual events, workshops and activities for adults, children and families, which you can access from home from now until the end of April. Have a look at the magazine here.