KINGSTON COVID CASES
This week I had an urgent meeting with the Chief Executive of Kingston Council regarding the sharp spike in Covid cases across the Borough. While Kingston is not being designated an Enhanced Response Area (ERA) – as Hounslow was last week - it is clear that we must act now to stop the spread.
Our current rate of infection is the highest in London. The Delta variant is now the dominant strain across the Borough, as it is throughout the country.
I was reassured to hear that despite these concerning figures, rates of testing in Kingston are good overall, and while we will not have been made an ERA, a number of measures will be put in place to slow the spread. These will include surge testing and vaccination, as well as supporting those who test positive with practical and financial help to self-isolate. For the latest information, please keep checking: https://www.kingston.gov.uk/Covid19-latest.
I would therefore also urge everyone to take the vaccine when offered and make use of the widespread availability of testing. It really is our best chance of suppressing the virus and, ultimately, returning to a state of normality. For more information on rapid testing in Kingston, visit: https://www.kingston.gov.uk/rapid-testing.
It's important to add that at this moment in time, the infection rates are not anywhere near the levels seen at the height of the pandemic. There is also not a huge amount of pressure on Kingston Hospital from Covid-19 cases. All of the current admissions were asymptomatic and admitted for other reasons.
With that in mind let’s all follow the advice and make sure to test regularly and take the vaccine when offered.
On Tuesday, the latest TfL funding settlement was announced, in which the Government proposed a cost-sharing deal with Hammersmith & Fulham Council (LBHF) and TfL. The Government’s proposal was to draw up a memorandum of understanding between the three parties to fund the reopening of the Bridge – initially to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic and, depending on cost, to motor traffic. Amongst the conditions are that each party pays a share of the cost, with the Government not directly contributing more than 1/3.
As the situation has developed and each party has responded, I have become increasingly concerned about the nature of the deal and the process by which it was arrived at. While I am very keen for Hammersmith Bridge to reopen to cyclists and pedestrians as soon as possible, by the Government’s own admission, nothing can happen until the next stage of investigations and report validations are completed at the end of this month, so its insistence that the Bridge is reopened ASAP is somewhat misguided. One potential outcome of the upcoming reports is that £Xm will be required for Stabilisation works before pedestrians and cyclists can use the Bridge. If that happens, there remains the questions of who will fund this. Will this be part of the 33% committed by the Government, or will LBHF be expected to shoulder it entirely? What if it cannot?
Based on LBHF’s response, I am also concerned about the extent to which they were consulted about this “tripartite” agreement. If they cannot commit funds, then we stand to make no progress at all. A further question also remains as to why the Taskforce did not opt for this path back in autumn last year. Why are we now left with a ferry which, subject to the upcoming Bridge reports, could soon be obsolete for large periods of time? How much time and taxpayers’ money has the Government poured into this?
My questions notwithstanding, I am nonetheless pleased to see the Government finally come to the table to engage constructively with others and provide some kind of indication of what it will be prepared to offer. I urge all parties involved to continue in this vein so that we can restore the Bridge ASAP.in so that we can restore the Bridge ASAP.
Today I sent a letter to the Managing Director of the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR), which was co-signed by an additional 36 cross-party MPs and Peers. Ahead of the upcoming PSR Strategy, I am keen to see the inclusion of robust measures that can tackle anti-competitive card fees. These fees add to the cost of doing business and inflate the price of goods and services.
Card payments accounted for almost 80% of retail spending in the UK prior to the pandemic which has gone significantly further to increase the UK’s reliance on cards with more customers shopping online or paying by card in store. The increasing burden of card costs is therefore a growing concern for businesses already struggling with the twin costs of coronavirus and Brexit, as well as consumers facing excessive and ever-increasing card fees.
To read the letter, click here.
STATE OF LOCAL COUNCIL FINANCES DURING PANDEMIC
As some of you may know, I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in the House of Commons. It is responsible for scrutinising the value for money of Government projects, programmes and service delivery. Today we released a report which looked into the state of local councils’ finances during the pandemic. We found that the impact of the pandemic risks has led to a reduction in services for local people even as council tax rises, meaning that local people could be paying more for less.
While we acknowledge that the Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government acted quickly to stave off widespread financial failure as Covid hit, we nonetheless concluded that his Department’s over-optimism about the resilience of local government is not matched by the reality. There is a clear need for the Department to have a better understanding of the financial challenges facing many local authorities, and this begins with implementing a system in which information of this kind can be properly shared and collected. For more information, click here.
SOUTH LONDON LISTENS
The next stage of South London Listens will take place on Wednesday 16 June 2021 with a Mental Ill-Health Prevention and Recovery Community Summit from 6-8pm. Community leaders from across South London will present urgent actions to tackle the looming mental health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The summit comes off the back of a survey in which more than 5,700 people shared their stories and ideas. The summit will present an action plan around four key areas: social isolation, work & wage, young people & parents and access to services.
We have all had a very personal experience of living through this pandemic. During the first three months of this year 21% of adults experienced depression, more than double the level in 2019. For some of us its effects will be short lived, but for others for others it will take a little longer. To register to the event, click here.
WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY
Tomorrow is World Environment Day. This year’s theme is ‘Ecosystem Restoration’. Healthier ecosystems with richer biodiversity yield greater benefits such as fertile soils and increased forage for pollinators, whilst also helping purify the air. Restoration can occur through active planting or by removing pressures so that nature can recover on its own.
In Kingston, the Council is working hard to improve our ecosystems. It has recently introduced relaxed mowing regimes in our parks, planted new biobeds (raised beds planted with robust species to support urban pollinators) and are now piloting a WildWays roadside verge scheme. Whether you live in Kingston or Richmond, there is plenty you can do to pledge your support. Why not start by leaving the car at home and walking or cycling instead? There are also a number of quick and simple ways to help boost biodiversity in your own gardens.
TACKLING CHILD POVERTY
I’ve recently been in contact with a charity called Voices of Hope which works in Kingston and Richmond. Voices of Hope runs a project called BRITE Box, which delivers over 10,000 healthy recipe kits to families at risk of food insecurity.
This coming week (8-16 June) will see a match funding campaign in which any donations to BRITE Box will be doubled as part of Champions for Children Campaign. To make a donation and find out more about the project, please click here.
SHAPING THE FUTURE OF YOUR LOCAL HIGH STREET
Residents of Richmond upon Thames are invited to have their say on community issues, the future of their high streets and town centres, and share their ideas on local priorities following the pandemic, in a series of virtual community engagement events.
The Community Conversation is a chance for ward councillors to hear what matters most to residents and local businesses and share ideas about the future of local areas. Those who wish to attend their local event, can register here. Once registered, attendees will be sent a personal link to join the event.
VISITRICHMOND GUIDE 2021 tRichmond has a new guide for locals and tourists alike showcasing all the borough has to offer. The VisitRichmond Guide 2021 details the borough’s historic and world-famous sites, parks, galleries and museums. It features the borough’s best walking and cycling routes, how to relax by the river, and a list of the Richmond upon Thames’ hidden gems. It also has a calendar of events and suggested itineraries showcasing the exciting things happening in the borough now that the COVID-19 pandemic’s restrictions have eased.
The free VisitRichmond Guide 2021 is available online, or to collect at Richmond Station Information Kiosk and at libraries around the borough.
KINKINGSTON STATION CYCLE HUB
The Kingston Station Cycle Hub is now open to the public, providing a secure facility for the storage of hundreds of bikes. Cycle parking at the Hub is completely free and monitored by extensive CCTV. Bike maintenance and repair facilities are also provided on site.
Other works undertaken around Kingston station include a new segregated pedestrian and cycle link between Kingston Station and Skerne Road, and an upgraded station forecourt with new crossings and a two-way cycle lane on Richmond Road.
KINGSTON YOUNG MUSICIAN
The deadline of 11 June is fast approaching for submissions to the Kingston Young Musician of the Year competition. This year it will be open to young performers, composers and song-writers in school years 7-13 who live in or attend a school in the Royal Borough of Kingston and they can submit pieces in any genre: classical, pop, jazz, hip-hop, rap etc. Read more here.