For me, this week's budget announcement was a mixed bag. I am pleased to see increased spending for education, courts and new housing, but extremely disappointed at the continued lack of action on the leaseholder cladding crisis and the poor level of commitment to carbon reduction measures. I am also disappointed by the absence of targeted measures to help hard-working residents withstand the worsening cost of living crisis.
I am particularly baffled by the Chancellor's decision to cut air passenger duty for internal UK flights. Making it harder for rail services to compete with airlines for domestic travel is irresponsible in the extreme, especially given the higher per-mile emissions of short haul flights over long haul flights. As I pointed out in the Chamber this week, we need to encourage train use wherever we can. With COP26 around the corner, the UK should be leading the way in making bold changes to fight climate change. I am very sorry to see the opportunity to do so missed once again.
On education, yesterday’s announcement takes education recovery spending up to around £5bn, which is far below the £15bn recommended by the government’s former advisor Sir Kevan Collins. That being said, I was very pleased to see significantly increased funding to create new school places for children with special educational needs and disabilities. We are in desperate need of these places in both Richmond and Kingston boroughs. I have been contacted by many local residents struggling to find the right place for a child with additional needs. I hope that this new funding will help our local authorities expedite the process of creating new places for them.
As the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for business, I was pleased that the Chancellor has scrapped next year's planned increase in business rates in England and promised more frequent revaluations and tax breaks for firms that make improvements to their properties. These measures will come as a relief to the many small business owners in Richmond Park. The 50% business rate discount for pubs, cinemas, restaurants, gyms and other venues announced in this budget is also a welcome support to leisure businesses.
However, I am concerned that there is a fundamental lack of investment in the skills that our economy needs. We have a chronic shortage of skilled workers stifling our economic recovery and leaving our supermarket shelves empty. Simply calling on the private sector to increase wages will only exacerbate inflation and create more obstacles for businesses.
I would also like to have seen measures to support maternal mental health in this budget, especially additional funding for health visitors. Health visitors are a vital support for parents are struggling with their mental health. The workforce has been cut by around a third since 2015, and we desperately need to get those health visitors back in place again.
ADJOURNMENT DEBATE ON SOUTHWESTERN RAILWAY CUTS
Last Friday, I held an Adjournment Debate in Parliament on rail service reductions. Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, and I used it as an opportunity to call on the Department for Transport (DfT) to halt South Western Railway’s (SWR) proposals to drastically cut local services.
The SWR proposals, which were put to a stakeholder consultation earlier this summer and would come into effect in December 2022, would cut peak time services across Richmond, Twickenham and Kingston. Across the entire service, they would cut 13 per cent of high peak trains per hour to London and 14 per cent of off-peak trains.
As Munira said in her speech, “SWR have admitted that long-term passenger numbers are only a guess, so now is not the time to be making permanent cuts to services. This government is cutting rail services and increasing fares, leading to a car-led recovery with all of the associated congestion, air pollution and environmental damage.”
Following on from Munira’s comments on how the changes would impact our region, I was keen to stress that the cuts would have profound environmental and economic consequences at a time when the country is attempting to honour its Net Zero obligations and encourage workers back into their London offices.
I said: “The challenge the country faces right now is not just from Covid. We also face the far greater challenge of cutting our carbon emissions, and much of this reduction needs to come from changing the way we travel. Government has made a clear commitment to modal shift as part of its strategy to reduce transport-related emissions and this means encouraging travellers to use trains, buses and active travel instead of motor cars... If we are to meet our carbon emission goals, then, we need to redouble our efforts to encourage people to travel by train.”
The DfT minister in attendance was keen to stress that proposed cuts were part of a consultation and that no changes have yet been made. He committed to requesting that SWR undertakes to publish data on its demand so that they are being as transparent as possible in the run up to their eventual decision.
You can see part of my speech here.
HAMMERSMITH BRIDGE UPDATE
Last week, the Barnes Community Association (BCA) announced that it has partnered with City Shuttle to bring the e-pedal shuttle service back to Hammersmith Bridge. The original service, which operated last year, was hugely popular, so I’ve been really keen to see what could be done to reinstate it. I’m enormously grateful for the hard work and perseverance of the BCA in making this possible. Having previously spoken with the owner of City Shuttle and inspected his vehicles, I was really impressed by his design. I am confident it will provide a comfortable, warm and dry ride across the bridge during the winter months. I’m especially hopeful that this will benefit to those who have mobility issues. The BCA is planning to launch the service in early November but in the meantime they are looking for riders. If you are interested (or know somebody who might be) please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. To begin with there will be just one vehicle, but I have asked Transport for London to commit to monitoring the service and, in the event it proves successful, assist with financing it so that a larger fleet of vehicles can help my constituents across the Bridge.
VISIT TO LONDON WETLANDS CENTRE
I enjoyed a lovely visit to the London Wetlands Centre in Barnes last Friday. General Manager Lisa Woodward took me on a tour of the site with her colleagues Tom Fewins and Tom Ash. Lisa told me about all the projects they are running to try to bring new people into the centre, especially young people. I was delighted to see evidence her success when we encountered some children who had come to the Peacock Hide on their own with their binoculars and cameras to see what the fine autumn morning would bring.
Other highlights of the visit included Tom Ash showing me their rain garden, built to demonstrate the ecological value of planting living roofs and adding "blue space" (water elements) to our built environments as well as green space. Tom also told me about the fascinating research they are doing into the mental health benefits of spending time near water.
The London Wetlands Centre is just one of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) properties. I spoke to Tom Fewins about their work trying to get the Government to restore 100,000 hectares of lost wetlands across the country. Wetlands have greater carbon storage capacity than rain forests, as well as helping to ease flooding and improve biodiversity and water quality. At their property in Somerset they have 250 hectares of saltmarsh burying 70 tonnes of CO2(e) per hectare per year. This is equivalent in one year to planting 1,100 saplings a year for ten years.
We need to make wetlands a more prominent part of our nature-based solutions to climate change and environmental degradation. I look forward to assisting WWT as much as I can.
UPCOMING COFFEE MORNINGS
I will be hosting my second series of in-person coffee mornings in November, with three events in North Kingston and Richmond. I thoroughly enjoyed getting out and talking to groups of constituents earlier this month, and am delighted to be coming to meet residents in other neighbourhoods. The dates are:
Tudor and Canbury event in Tudor Ward - Wednesday, November 10 at 10:30
Richmond and Kew event in North Richmond ward - Friday, November 12 at 10:30
Coombe Hill and Coombe Vale event in Coombe Hill -- Monday, November 15 at 10:30
Please be assured that security measures will be in place at these events. Coffee mornings are open to all Richmond Park residents but attendees must register in advance giving their home address.
If you would like to join me for a brief update on what I am doing as your MP followed by conversation with your fellow residents and myself, please register here. You can also register to be notified of other upcoming events using the same link.
Parents of teenagers will be happy to hear that they can book Covid-19 vaccinations for children aged 12 and over on the national website here. People over aged 50 who had their second Covid-19 vaccination more than six months ago can also book on the website. You may even be able to get your annual flu jab with it!
The vaccination centre at the Stoop, the Harlequins rugby stadium in Twickenham, has reopened temporarily and will be available on weekdays only until 5 November. You can book this site as well as see all the other available sites, on the national booking website.
I strongly encourage parents of children 12 and over to book vaccinations for them online if possible. Vaccination teams are making their way around all the schools, but they will not get to all the schools until the end of November, and will then have to start the visits again to catch the children who were not vaccinated the first time. We need to get the case rate back under control, and with case rates so high in this area and in this age group I encourage everyone to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible.
GP SURGERY APPOINTMENTS
I wrote to the Southwest London Clinical Commissioning Group (SW London CCG) this week to ask them about face to face appointments with patients in Richmond Park. They sent a reply that included this:
Many patients, particularly those most vulnerable to COVID-19, prefer the ease of video and phone consultations, and the latest patient survey for Richmond shows that 87% had a good overall experience at their GP practice in the last year. Results for the GP patient survey in South West London, were better than the rest of London and our highest score was for ease of patients getting through to practices.
In Richmond, all practices have continued to offer face to face appointments throughout the pandemic. When clinically appropriate, consulting on the phone or by video helps maintain patient and staff safety, saves the patient an unnecessary trip to the GP Practice, and also allows clinicians to see more patients.
Moving to a new mode of consulting the doctor has naturally been confusing to a lot of my constituents. If you call your GP surgery for an appointment and are offered a telephone appointment, please be aware that the doctor can decide during your phone appointment to offer you to a face to face appointment very quickly, if they think that would be helpful. If you are not sure what the new procedures are at your surgery, please ask the receptionist to explain clearly exactly how the new system works.
CLIMATE WEEK EVENTS IN RICHMOND UPON THAMES
Supported and co-organised by Richmond Council and Habitats & Heritage, Richmond Climate Week will take place from 1 – 7 November 202 alongside COP26. The event aims to highlight local climate projects, help residents, businesses and communities better understand how to reduce their carbon footprint, and inform residents how to get involved in tackling climate change in our communities.
Each day will focus on a specific theme that will introduce residents to topics such as food, waste and recycling, energy saving, transport and air quality, net zero, nature, habitats, and biodiversity through a combination of digital content, and online and in-person workshops and events.
The week will include a youth-focused day on Wednesday, 3 November 2021.
You can see the full programme of events for Richmond Climate Week here.
NEW SERVICE FOR VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC ABUSE
Hestia provides domestic abuse services across London, as well as campaigning and advocating nationally on the issues that affect domestic abuse survivors. From November 1, Richmond Council is commissioning Hestia to provide emotional and practical support to anyone in Richmond upon Thames who experiences domestic abuse.
Services for domestic abuse survivors with complex needs will continue to be provided by Refuge.
Richmond Council is committed to engaging with men and boys, changing cultures and raising awareness. The council has appointed Councillor Ben Khosa as its first White Ribbon Champion, specifically with the role of driving forward the borough’s work to tackle violence against women and girls.
CHANGE OF LEADERSHIP FOR KINGSTON COUNCIL
Earlier this week Cllr Caroline Kerr stepped down from the leadership of Kingston Council. I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks to Caroline for her dedicated service and her exemplary leadership throughout the pandemic.
Councillor Andreas Kirsch, Portfolio Holder for Finance and Commissioning and ward councillor for Chessington South and Malden Rushett, will be Kingston Council’s new Leader. I send him my best wishes and look forward to working with him to support my Kingston constituents.
EMERGENCY DEFIBRILLATOR TRAINING IN CANBURY
London Lifesavers is a London Ambulance Service scheme to train 100,000 members of the public in basic life support skills. Training in emergency life support and the use of automatic defibrillators will give more people the confidence to help someone who collapses. Automatic defibrillators are extremely easy to use and anyone can be trained in the basic skills of life support. Every second counts if someone's heart stops, and the more people who know what to do the better their chance of a good outcome.
A local resident will be running five sessions for ten learners each at Canbury Pavilion next month. Participants need to be happy to kneel and/or lie for some of the practical work. On completion participants will get a full colour glossy booklet and an LAS issued London Lifesaver Certificate.
Wed 3rd Nov 14:00-16:00hrs. Wed 10th Nov 13:30-15:30hrs. Wed 10th Nov 19:00-21:00hrs. Wed 17th Nov 19:00-21:00hrs. Wed 24th Nov 19:00-21:00hrs.
Attendance is limited and must be booked in advance by emailing email@example.com