This week, thousands of schoolchildren across the constituency have received offers for secondary school places. I want to take this opportunity to send my best wishes to all of the children moving on to this new and exciting stage of life.
We have fantastic schools here in Richmond Park, but, as in recent years, our schools have had more applicants than they have places available. The result of this is that, unfortunately, some pupils have not yet been offered a place. If your child is in this group, please be assured that more places will become available as other children confirm or decline their offers, and the local authority is working hard to get your child a place as soon as possible. The next round of offers will be sent out on March 30.
If your child was not allocated their first choice, they will remain on the waiting list for their higher choice schools and may still be offered a place at one of them. Accepting a lower choice school will not affect their place on the waiting lists for their higher choice schools.
Parents will have received information and instructions, and I encourage them to read this carefully.
LETTER TO HEALTH SECRETARY ON COMMUNITY PHARMACIES
Community pharmacies are a vital part of our healthcare infrastructure, playing a pivotal role in getting rapid advice for patients and reducing the strain on GP services. Yet it is estimated that pharmacies have seen their funding reduced by 30% in real terms since 2015. Many are now facing closure as they are often dispensing NHS medicines and providing other services at a loss.
I am therefore pleased to have joined 48 other MPs and Peers to sign a cross-party letter to Health Secretary Steve Barclay calling on the Government to provide an urgent funding injection to keep community pharmacies afloat.
The letter also calls for the implementation of a “Pharmacy First” scheme, designed to give the public direct access to advice and information, and treatment for minor ailments, including common conditions such as urinary tract Infections and minor skin infections. You can read a copy of this letter here.
SKY NEWS PMQ PANEL
On Wednesday, I participated in the Sky News Pre-Prime Minister's Questions panel to discuss the main issues the country will be facing over the coming weeks and months. The discussion particularly focused on Northern Ireland and the deal announced by the Government to reduce restrictions on trade flowing into the region from Europe.
During the panel, I noted that this agreement is something the Liberal Democrats have been calling for since January 2020. It shows the clear value of a constructive approach to negotiations with the European Union. I argued that Rishi Sunak should go further in his future negotiations, and address other key issues such as the increasing red tape on British businesses wishing to trade with Europe.
Going forward, I will continue to voice the Liberal Democrat plan for rebuilding relations with Europe, starting with finding common ground on key issues such as scientific cooperation and the Erasmus scheme. If you wish to see a clip of my remarks, you can do so here.
UPDATE ON ENERGY BILLS SUPPORT
After months of delay, the application for the Energy Bills Support Scheme (EBSS) Alternative Funding finally opened on Monday 27th February.
The EBSS provides a discount on energy bills of £400 and has been delivered as an automatic payment for most households across Great Britain from October 2022 to March 2023. The EBSS Alternative Funding is a one-off £400 non-repayable discount to eligible households who have not received the main EBSS payment. Such households include those on heat networks, those living in park homes and in boats and self-funding residents in care homes.
To receive EBSS Alternative Funding, eligible households must apply online via gov.uk. The payment will then be distributed by local authorities. The application portal and full information on the payment and eligibility criteria is available here.
On Monday, I led a session of the Public Accounts Committee as part of our inquiry into energy bills support. I took this opportunity to question the Permanent Secretary of the previous Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the distribution of EBSS Alternative Funding. You can watch a clip of this exchange here.
THAMES WATER ABSTRACTION PLAN
This week, Thames Water held two further consultation events on their scheme to ensure future water supplies by abstracting river water at Teddington Lock and replacing it with treated, recycled water from Mogden Sewage Works.
Over the course of this week, I have raised many of the concerns that constituents have brought to me, in particular the prospect of the treatment process failing and contaminants getting into the river. I was pleased to learn that Thames Water has guaranteed that it will not be possible for raw sewage or storm overflow to make its way into the Thames through the scheme's outflow, and that there will be 24-hour live monitoring of the quality of the water exiting the outflow to ensure that all treatment processes are working correctly.
Ultimately, without a full, independently reviewed environmental impact assessment, we will not be able to say for certain whether this scheme is safe for the river. I understand Thames Water's view that this project is essential for ensuring future water supplies, but they have failed to protect our local environment too many times for us to simply take them at their word. The consultation will be open until the end of March. If you want to share you views, click the link here.
As the stabilisation works on Hammersmith Bridge near completion, I was extremely pleased to learn that the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham have finally acceded to my request for clarity around the proposed Foster and Partners + Cowi Solution. For those who do not know, this solution involves the construction of a temporary bridge across Hammersmith Bridge which will allow cars and pedestrians to cross while the original platform is repaired. While this solution has the potential to both be cheaper than other plans and get the bridge open faster, we have had very few hard details up until now.
I will be meeting with a team from LBHF over the coming weeks and, while I have questions of my own, I would like to give residents the chance to get their questions answered before the formal public consultation opens. To that end, if you have a question about the proposal, please don't hesitate to contact me. While I may not be able to communicate every question during my meeting, I will do my best to ensure that I gather all the details I can. You can reach me at email@example.com.
Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Coombe Hill Junior School. During the visit, I was asked about life as an MP, getting into politics, and the work I have been doing in the Chamber to represent my constituents. It was particularly wonderful to hear about the children's deep sense of social responsibility and to learn that beyond engaging in regular litter picks to clean up the local area, they have also raised more than £1500 for earthquake relief in Turkey and Syria.
I also visited the Swiss Bread Bakery and Cafe in Ham. The bakery was founded by Andre Broglie and Tanja Gugger a few days before lockdown. Having survived the business restrictions of the pandemic, they now have a thriving business close to the German School. I enjoyed sampling their excellent food and recommend popping in next time you are in Ham.
NEXT COFFEE MORNING - MARCH 16 IN RICHMOND
My next coffee morning event will be held at a location near the riverside in Richmond. Constituents living in Petersham and RIchmond are cordially invited to join me for a brief update on what is happening in Westminster followed by questions and discussion on any topics of interest to attendees -- local, national or international. To find out what I am doing as your representative in Parliament and in the constituency, and ask me about issues of interest to you, register for this event here.
TFL DISCOUNT FOR KEW GARDENS I was delighted to learn that Kew Gardens will be offering discounted tickets to those visitors who arrive at the site by public transport. Starting this spring, the Royal Botanical Gardens will offer up to £7.20 on the standard adult ticket or up to £6.45 on concession tickets to people with proof of a valid journey on TfL.
I know that many residents in Kew will be especially pleased to hear that fewer visitors will be using the area's roads, with all the benefits to noise reduction and air quality that will come with this change. It is wonderful to see this kind of initiative and I hope that other sites will be instituting similar policies in the future. To learn more, visit TfL's website here.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has suspended their planned strike action next week while they are in talks with the Government. However, the trade union Unison said up to 32,000 of its members across the NHS in England, including some ambulance staff, paramedics and some nurses, will strike on 8th March. Some emergency and critical care cover will still be in place.
CLICK HERE to keep up to date with news about the RCN strike action
Junior doctors who are members of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) will also strike for the first time in their union’s history, on 13 March. The walk out will be for 72 hours – continuously across three days. This will involve a full stoppage of work, including nights, on-call shifts and non-resident work.
CLICK HERE to read more about the junior doctors' action
The strike planned for next Wednesday involving London ambulance staff has been suspended. No announcement has been made yet by Unison about London Ambulance Service strikes planned for later this month.
HEALTH BUS IN HAM
Richmond borough residents can access blood pressure checks, support to stop smoking, preventative health advice from a local pharmacist, and more free services on the Council's Community Health Bus, which will be in Ham on Tuesday 14 March, from 8.30 am to 2.30pm - outside Kanset Pharmacy, 177 Ashburnham Road, TW10 7NR.
Eligible residents will also have access to their first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as well as a flu jab. A local pharmacist will be available to offer advice on a range of different areas, including vaccination and lifestyle information.
CLICK HERE for more Health Bus information.
KINGSTON VEGAN MARKET
The highly-successful Vegan Market is back in Kingston on Sunday 5 March from 10am - 4pm, perfect for an afternoon browse on all things vegan! Come and find out how tasty this high quality plant-based food can be! Find out more
KINGSTON ANTIQUES AND VINTAGE POP-UP MARKET
The popular Kingston antiques and vintage market returns to the Ancient Market Place on Sunday 26 March, from 10am - 4pm, with 24 vintage and retro stalls to shop from. Come and hunt for treasure in the marketplace! Find out more