NEW NATIONAL LOCKDOWN TO REGAIN CONTROL OF THE VIRUS
Last night the Prime Minister announced that the country would be going into a new national lockdown, effective immediately. This was widely anticipated, due to the major escalation in cases across the UK, but particularly in London, since the beginning of December.
The situation is grim. Hospitalisation numbers are now as high as at the April peak and reported new infections are at record levels. Given the number of cases that have been identified and the lag time between infection and hospitalisation, we know that hospitalisations are going to continue rising for at least the next 2-3 weeks. This will create enormous pressure on our NHS.
It is essential that we all follow the new rules, and recommit ourselves to stopping transmission of the virus. As a working parent I know how hard it is on children and parents to have schools closed. I believe children should be in school and closing schools must always be a last resort. But this is the last resort now, and we must protect lives by finding a way to make it work. You can see the Government's guidance on the new rules here. Please do get in touch with my office if you need any help clarifying the rules.
I will be working in Parliament (remotely) to scrutinise the Government's actions and to demand more and better support for my constituents. The Government must do more to enable home learning and home working, and they must make financial support available to more people. Testing, tracing and isolating are vitally important, along with the vaccine rollout and keeping the NHS running. I will do all I can as your MP to promote these goals in Westminster.
But everyone has a part to play in getting the virus under control again. So please, stay home unless you absolutely must go out for one of the approved reasons. And when you do go out, please be more scrupulous than ever about hand washing, wearing your face mask and keeping distance from others.
EDUCATION IN LOCKDOWN
This afternoon I attended a Q&A session for MPs with Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Standards, and the Department for Education to discuss the impact of the recent announcement of a national lockdown on education. Minister Gibb provided clarification on several important points:
Early years settings such as nurseries, alternative provision and special schools are remaining open because it is not possible to deliver education to these groups digitally. As with all other education settings, the situation remains under review and the minister did not rule out further changes.
BTEC exams will go ahead because the practical assessment must be observed. A-Levels and GCSEs have been cancelled, and the government is consulting with Ofqual (the Qualification and Examinations regulator) about how best to award grades to students.
There is a strong case for vaccinating teachers. Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, suggested that teachers will be considered for prioritisation after the first four groups, but that those at particular risk will likely be captured in those first four groups.
University students should stay at home where they are and access learning remotely unless they’re in a specific group requiring hands-on learning or assessment. I have heard from a number of university students about the lack of provision and shall be making separate representation to the Department for Education about this.
Tablets are being distributed to schools to make sure that every child has something to access learning on. 4G wireless routers are also being distributed through schools. Internet providers have made agreements with the government to ensure everyone has sufficient data provision. Further information can be found here: https://get-help-with-tech.education.gov.uk/devices
Deadlines are being extended for administration processes, such as admissions and appeals.
No decision has been made yet on whether SATs will go ahead, but the Government is working to ensure that schools can make the necessary provisions as soon as possible.
My biggest question now is what provisions the Government intends to put in place to replace GCSEs and A-levels to assess performance in Year 11 and Year 13. Nobody wants to see a repeat of the fiasco of last year’s exam results – I shall seek further clarification on this point and will update you when I hear more.
SUPPORT DURING LOCKDOWN
If you need assistance during this lockdown, both Kingston and Richmond Councils have support hubs you can go to for any help you need - financial support schemes, accessing food and other supplies, council services, etc. If you feel you need help, please contact the hub for your borough:
Kingston Stronger Together Hub Fill in this support form and the hub will contact you. Or phone 020 8547 5000
Richmond Community Hub Email firstname.lastname@example.org Or phone 020 8871 6555
If you are concerned about your own mental health, or that of someone you love, you can access support from Mind, the mental health charity. Call their Infoline on 0300 123 3393 or email them at: email@example.com to find out how they can help you get through this. They also have lots of great information available on their website here.
The bright spot on the horizon is, of course, the vaccination programme. I was delighted to hear that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was approved at the end of last year as it will mean a step change in the number of people who can be vaccinated. The government have set an ambitious target of vaccinating 13.2 million people by the end of February and I very much want them to succeed.
Vaccination in Richmond and Kingston has begun, with several vaccination centres already operating in the constituency, and larger centres due to open soon, as more vaccine supply becomes available. The local public health authorities have asked me to pass on some key messages to constituents:
The Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective and will give you the best available protection against coronavirus. Some people might feel slightly unwell after receiving their vaccination, but no significant side effects have been observed in the tens of thousands of people involved in trials. You cannot catch Covid-19 from the vaccine.
The NHS will let you know when it is your turn to have a vaccination. It is important not to contact the NHS for a vaccination before then as they are under enormous pressure from the combination of Covid-19 patients, the vaccine rollout and their regular patient care work.
An independent group of experts has recommended that the NHS first offers vaccines first to those at highest risk of suffering serious complications or dying from Covid-19. The programme will see people aged 80 and above among the first to receive the jab, along with healthcare workers, and care home residents and staff. You can see more detail about the who is in the priority list, including people with certain health conditions, in the leaflet on the right.
Some constituents might be relieved to hear that there is no material of foetal or animal origin in either of the approved vaccines. All ingredients are published in healthcare information on the MHRA’s website.
•For the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine information is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-pfizer-biontech-vaccine-for-covid-19
•For the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine information is available here:
With the end of the transition period on December 31, we have now fully separated from the European Union. While the effects of Brexit, both short term and long term, have yet to be felt and assessed, I do not believe the deal struck by the Prime Minister at the last minute will be enough to protect us from harm.
The failure to make provision for our service sectors, which make up 80% of our economy, will damage British business, and sharply reduce the tax revenues we depend on to fund our public services, including paying the bills for our Covid-19 response. Furthermore, old wounds will be reopened in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Our security services will find it harder to keep us safe. Consumer prices are likely to rise. Red tape for our export businesses will increase.
I hope that our economy will recover strongly in 2021 from the twin blows of Covid-19 and Brexit, but I do not feel the Government has done enough with this Brexit deal to ensure that result.
Before Christmas I wrote to Transport for London with some questions about the planned ferry service between Hammersmith and Barnes. They have responded with the following details:
On 31 October we agreed a wider funding support package with the Government, which confirmed our immediate funding for the ferry. We then started an urgent procurement process to identify a suitable operator. This is underway and, once concluded, we aim to appoint an operator in February 2021 and have services running in Spring 2021, subject to the necessary consents and interests in land being granted.
In terms of the hours of service, there will be specific minimum service requirements which the operator will have to follow, which state the ferry must operate at least from 6am to 10pm on weekdays. I note the request for the hours of operation for the ferry to mirror the Tube hours of operation and have passed it onto the team. Local residents will have an opportunity to engage with us on the ferry plans once we have further details, so we will reach out to them about this in due course.
We have recently published a leaflet which includes further information on our latest position, and it can be found here
I have also received confirmation from TfL that, following my request, from the 12th December, the 533 bus was increased to five buses per hour during Monday to Friday within peak hours and will remain so moving forward. I am hopeful that this will resolve some of the issues being reported regarding prolonged delays and insufficient seating.
I have contacted the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham for more detail about the Mott McDonald report, which has looked into the condition of the bridge. Similarly, I have urged the taskforce to consider the Foster and Partners solution, while I am continuing in my efforts to set up a meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport to get a clearer indication about funding.
FURTHER FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR BUSINESSES
Further financial support grants for businesses affected by COVID-19 regulations are now available in the form of the Local Restrictions Support Grant (Open) scheme, or LRSG (Open).
This new scheme, which aims to support hospitality, hotels and leisure businesses that have suffered financial hardship due to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 COVID-19 restrictions, is now available. Businesses are only eligible if they were NOT legally required to close when London first moved into Tier 2 restrictions on the 17 October and again following the end of the 2nd national lockdown on the 2 December 2020, but were still impacted financially.
Details of eligibility and how to apply are available here.
TACKLING ROUGH SLEEPING
The Council has been awarded £111,468 short term Next Steps Accommodation (NSAP) funding to support rough sleepers during the pandemic, and up to £546,631 long term Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme (RSAP) funding to implement the borough’s first ever Housing First project for the next 4 years.
Since the 23rd March 2020, the Council, with the help of local rough sleeping charity SPEAR, has made an offer of self-contained accommodation to anyone sleeping rough in the borough. This followed the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ initiative which sought to protect rough sleepers from COVID-19.
RICHMOND RUGBY CLUB COLLECTING LAPTOPS FOR PUPILS WITHOUT COMPUTERS
If you have a device you are no longer using, Richmond Rugby Club is once again collecting working laptops and tablets for children who need them for their home schooling. Devices can be dropped off (with power leads, please) between 11am and 1pm every Saturday at
Richmond Athletic Ground Twickenham Road Richmond TW9 2SF 020 8332 7112
OLYMPIC CINEMA IN BARNES AWARDED RECOVERY GRANT
The British Film Institute has awarded £472,145 in funding from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund to the Olympic Cinema in Barnes, to enable the venue to survive during this uncertain period, and allow them to reopen eventually, to continue to serve the local community and beyond. I am delighted that this wonderful local business has received this boost.
MESSAGE FROM KINGSTON'S CHIEF EXECUTIVE
I had an email last week from Ian Thomas, the Chief Executive of the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames, summing up the past year in the Borough and looking ahead to the future. He says:
When I stopped to look back at what we’ve all achieved together I was overwhelmed. There are so many people who’ve done so many things in so many ways, that it truly is impossible to list them all - I just can’t do it. So I’ll say a huge thank you again and I’d just like to pick out a few highlights and reasons for celebration:
Many of you will know that my background is in children’s services, so the fact that Kingston’s Children's Services are rated outstanding by Ofsted and 90% of our schools rated good or better makes me so proud. Adult Social Care is serving residents really well with Kingston named in the top 10% nationally for quality and cost -- an incredible achievement.
Another highlight came at the start of the year when residents of the Cambridge Road Estate put their trust in the council and Countryside to commence an £800m regeneration of their estate, creating new homes, open spaces and community facilities.
The main work of the year has been dictated by COVID-19 and the council, councillors, partners and community moved at remarkable speed to respond to the pandemic, protecting the NHS and supporting rough sleepers, shielding residents, protecting our most vulnerable citizens and maintaining core services. We are also in the top 25% nationally for speed of business grants payments.
And finally underpinning all of this we achieved a balanced budget for 2019/20 and are on course to balance 2020/21 despite receiving zero revenue support grant.
Looking forward to 2021 we have an exciting regeneration programme which will help boost our local economy, as well as task forces which will help build community resilience, tackle inequalities and ensure residents have access to new opportunities to replace jobs lost due to the economic downturn.
The plans for next year also include building schools, providing a facility to offer breaks for people with autism, investing in leisure and housing to support a growing population and meeting the needs of those who require social and affordable housing. There are also exciting town centre developments including bringing the riverside to life around The Undercroft at John Lewis which will become the Factory of Futures run by Creative Youth and the premises directly above which will include a new opportunity site for SME businesses linked with the Kingston University ‘Knowledge Exchange’.
Obviously the financial challenges will remain and we will need to continue to address these, and not least around how SEND services are financed.
And of course we have our commitment to mitigating climate change - that underpins absolutely everything we do. There are some very visible actions we’ve taken and will continue to take including tree maintenance and planting and installation of electric vehicle charging points as well as the actions we take behind the scenes to build environmental good practice into our core business - such as the plans for the Cambridge Road Estate regeneration and encouraging cycling and other more sustainable ways of travelling.
I could go on - and there are really impressive numbers and stats that sit behind these achievements. But more importantly behind all of this activity is you - all the people, all the officers, councillors, MPs along with the businesses, residents and partners I am privileged to work alongside - who work so hard day in and day out to make Kingston the best place in London to live and work.