On Wednesday, Dominic Cummings, the former chief advisor to the Prime Minister, appeared before a Select Committee of MPs to provide oral evidence on the Government's handling of the outbreak of the pandemic. It made for astonishing, infuriating and often harrowing viewing, confirming many of our worst fears as to the level of incompetence that was running through Number 10 at the time.
Liberal Democrats have long been calling for a full, statutory public inquiry. I was therefore pleased to see that Ed Davey has written to the Prime Minister urging him to appoint the chair, and any further members of the panel, within days. This really is a matter of the greatest urgency.
Amidst the unsavoury melodrama unfolding in front of us, my thoughts ultimately remain with the families across the country who have lost loved ones. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it was to hear a senior government official admit that so many lives were unnecessarily lost.
This week, Parliament has been debating the Environment Bill in its Third Reading in the House of Commons. The Bill covers a wide range of issues and protections that were previously subject to EU regulations, such as air and water pollution, wildlife habitats, plastic waste and deforestation.
It is a vitally important piece of legislation for which I tabled an Amendment (29) that would have required local public authorities to exercise relevant functions in accordance with Local Nature Recovery Strategies.
Essentially, this would ensure that decisions that affect natural environment, including but not limited to planning decisions, would have been informed by the Strategies, providing a critical protection against developers seeking to concrete over valuable green space. Disappointingly, the Government voted it down, but I will of course continue exploring ways of strengthening local authorities' ability to protect their green spaces.
AUSTRALIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT
This week in Parliament we also debated the proposed free trade agreement with Australia. I have major reservations about this deal, which amounts to a betrayal of British farmers and would also greatly compromise food quality standards here in the UK.
Australian animal welfare standards are lower than ours, which means lower production costs and cheaper produce. The only way, therefore, that small British family farms could remain competitive would be to lower their own standards.
I have previously written to the Department for Trade to ensure our standards aren't lowered and our farmers are protected. This week I took the opportunity once again to ask the Department what actions they planned on taking to protect our environmental and animal welfare standards.
HAMMERSMITH BRIDGE UPDATE
Today marks 14 weeks since the Department for Transport received a 108-page report of funding proposals for the reopening of Hammersmith Bridge. I therefore recorded a short video detailing some of the other incredibly damning numbers surrounding the Bridge's ongoing closure. My hope is to draw attention to Government inaction and ultimately encourage them to come to the table and work constructively with others. To watch the video, click here.
I was also pleased to see that a local resident is working with Global Action Plan, an environmental campaigning charity, to measure the air pollution on the streets they believe to be worse since the Bridge's closure. If you wanted to submit any streets you feel should be measured, please email: Frankie@hellonewsociety.com.
COVID-19 CASES IN SOUTH WEST LONDON
I was briefed today by London health authorities on the rise of the Covid-19 variant of concern in west London. They assured me that they are doing surge testing in hotpots using PCR tests, which can identify the particular strain of the virus in anyone who tests positive. They are also speeding up the vaccine rollout in those areas with mobile vaccination centres, and bringing forward second doses from twelve weeks after the first dose to eight weeks after it.
Until such time as everyone has been vaccinated, though, we still need to do all we can to contain the virus. I urge my constituents to stay local as much as they can, and to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. School children and their parents should be testing themselves using the free LFD tests twice a week; secondary schools in particular are a significant source of transmission. Please continue following advice to wear your mask in indoor public places, wash your hands regularly and continue giving plenty of space to people you meet.
WOMEN'S HEALTH SURVEY
In March, the Department of Health and Social Care launched a call for evidence to inform the development of the first Women’s Health Strategy for England, with the ambition of improving the health and wellbeing of women across the country.
Women of all ages and backgrounds, as well as clinicians and those with expertise in women’s health, are being urged to respond to the online survey in order to capture the varying health issues women experience over their lives and the significant differences between women in terms of access to services, experience of services and health outcomes. The survey has received remarkable uptake to date but there is more to do. Feedback so far shows women from the Midlands and East of England, those from Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds, and over-50s are under-represented in sharing their experiences.
Their aim is to reach as wide a range of women as possible so that they can gather the best evidence to inform future policy making, and ensure that the strategy is representative of everyone’s needs and experiences. The deadline for submissions is 13 June, and you can do so here.
APPEAL FOR PARTNERS TO HELP PROVIDE FOOD AND ACTIVITIES FOR CHILDREN THIS SUMMER
Could your organisation or business help provide nutritious food and organised activities to children aged 5-16 who receive Free School Meals over the summer holidays?
Achieving for Children (AfC), Richmond Council’s children's services provider, will run the Department for Education’s Holiday Activity and Food Programme, named F.U.E.L (Feed Ur Everyday Lives) in Richmond upon Thames, and is seeking applications from organisations who can help deliver provision over the summer.
Funding is available for prospective partners wanting to be involved in delivering the programme. Organisations need to complete this form. Achieving for Children is also looking to fund organisations that can help to deliver the food element of this programme and is currently seeking expressions of interest from food providers. Meals would need to meet school food standards and be delivered in several locations. To register an Interest please complete the food Expression of Interest here. For further information about the programme, or support in applying, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
E-SCOOTER TRIAL IN RICHMOND STARTS JUNE 7
E-bike rental company Lime will be working with TfL to deliver a for-hire e-scooter trial in Richmond upon Thames from June 7. We already have their e-bikes on local roads, and I am very interested to see if they have succeeded in making e-scooters equally safe. They have added a number of new safety features to the e-scooters that will be in use here: they will be speed limited to 12mph, have lights and bells, be fitted with ID numbers for reporting unsafe use, and use GPS technology to prevent them being ridden in pedestrianised areas or parked in inappropriate locations. You can find full information here.
AVAILABILITY OF COVID-19 TESTS IN RICHMOND UPON THAMES
From Tuesday 1 June, three libraries in Richmond upon Thames will be handing out home tests, including East Sheen Library. See here for their opening hours: www.richmond.gov.uk/branch_libraries.
You can also still book a supervised test at a local pharmacy, with eight stores in Teddington, Twickenham, Barnes, Ham and Richmond all ore offering this service. It is available for anyone aged 18 years and older. Appointments must be booked in advance. Operating hours vary between pharmacies. To book at test at a local pharmacy go to: www.richmond.gov.uk/book_lateral_flow_test.
You can also collect home tests from both local pharmacies and PCR testing centres. To find your nearest location go to: https://maps.test-and-trace.nhs.uk. You can also order them online for free: www.gov.uk/order-coronavirus-rapid-lateral-flow-tests.
KINGSTON COUNCIL AWARDED GOVERNMENT FUNDING FOR INNOVATIVE HOSPITAL CONTACT TRACING PILOT TO SUPPORT SELF-ISOLATION
Kingston Council is playing a key role in nationwide efforts to boost self-isolation rates among people who test positive for COVID-19, through an innovative government-backed pilot that will introduce local contact tracing in the borough’s hospital.
The council initiative, developed in collaboration with Kingston Hospital, is one of nine local authority schemes across the country to receive funding from the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) to trial creative ways of supporting people who need to self isolate, to reduce transmission of the virus.
The new contact tracers will increase the number of cases and their contacts completing tracing with the local team, and so help reduce transmission of the virus.
Those eligible for the Stay Home Support vouchers will receive a payment for each of the 10 days they have to self-isolate. There will be a daily check-in from the council’s local contact tracing service to ensure recipients are complying with self-isolation rules. The aim is to ensure those who may otherwise face loss of earnings are financially supported, and are not deterred from coming forward for testing. It is hoped this will reduce the risk of non-compliance with self-isolation, and ultimately help break the chains of transmission.
SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT IN KINGSTON
Alongside School Streets, the council continues to invest in cycle training, as well as its cycling infrastructure network, and is introducing more electric vehicle charging points to make it easier for those who need to drive to make the switch to electric vehicles.
For more information about Kingston’s School Streets and to share your views on this scheme visit: kingstonletstalk.co.uk/hub-page/our-streets.
To find out more about the council’s sustainable transport initiatives visit: kingston.gov.uk/Sustainabletransport.