I was very disappointed this week to hear Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak's budget plans for next year. The Chancellor appears to be concentrating all of his efforts in specific areas of the country rather than investing in new sources of wealth and future jobs. This Budget ignores the real needs of our economy, both for the immediate challenges of the pandemic and for the future.
We badly need reformed business rates to level the playing field for high street retailers competing with online retailers. We must lower the barriers to entry for retail and other small businesses if we are to save our town centres and support our communities.
We know that we need to transition away from carbon-emitting industries if we are to achieve net zero, and must grasp the nettle of investment in green jobs. There is real opportunity for growth there, but the private sector is waiting for Government policy to set a direction. The Chancellor could have set that direction this week with promises to invest in green technology or a bold new plan for retrofitting to replace the Green Homes Grant, but he did not.
As the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Business and Industrial Strategy, I spoke about these matters in greater detail in the Budget debate in the House of Commons yesterday. You can see the text of my speech here, or watch a video of it here.
The Chancellor also declined to offer any support to self-employed people who were excluded from the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. Once again, they have been unfairly left to fend for themselves.
This was also the moment to offer NHS workers a long-overdue substantial pay rise. The miserly 1% increase offered is an insult to the dedication shown and the sacrifices made by healthcare workers this year. It goes firmly against the wishes of the majority of Britons, who favour a much higher pay rise for nurses and other frontline staff. Our healthcare workers have done all they could this year to protect us as far as possible from Covid-19 -- work made harder by Government mismanagement of the crisis. To snub them at this point shows appalling ingratitude to them as well as insensitivity to the public will.
The Budget also once again ignores the pressing issue of social care reform - an even more urgent issue now than a year ago. We know that a well-functioning care service is essential to keeping the NHS running well, to say nothing of giving older people the decent and dignified lives they deserve. The Prime Minister pledged to address this as a priority, and I am sorry to see that he is declining to do so.
The Chancellor has also failed to give nurseries and early years providers certainty about their futures, and to deliver much-needed extra funding for schools and nurseries to help meet the additional costs of being open safely during the pandemic. The free school meals holiday scheme has also not been made permanent, as it should have been. I am most disappointed by this lack of support for the schools, teachers and carers who have done all they could to help children and vulnerable adults through this difficult year.
CLIMATE WORK - PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE NET ZERO REPORT
I was interviewed by Adam Boulton on Sky News today about the Public Accounts Committee’s report on the Government’s plan for net zero, entitled 'Achieving Net Zero.' I was a lead member of the enquiry, which interviewed departments across Government about the steps they were taking to reach the goal the Government put into law in June 2019 of reaching net zero by 2050. The report, released today, found that the Government still has no coordinated plan. With COP26 fast approaching, the Government urgently needs to publish a system-wide net zero strategy that works with Local Authorities and ensures we are not simply transferring our emissions to other countries.
I spoke about the pressing need for a long-term retrofitting policy which would have massive economic benefits. It would bring skilled jobs to every part of the country, and would really help the lowest income households save on their bills. The energy we use to heat our buildings is the second biggest contributor to carbon emissions in the UK. If the Government makes a clear commitment to tackling this issue, construction companies could scale up, recruit and invest in the materials and skills needed.
You can find the report here. I sincerely hope that we will see a comprehensive strategy from the Government imminently.
JOIN ME FOR A DISCUSSION ABOUT THE FUTURE OF TRANSPORT IN LONDON
On Wednesday 24 March, at 7:00pm I will be hosting a Zoom panel discussion about what transport in the capital might look like in the future. I will be joined by Caroline Pidgeon AM and Peter Morris, Chief Economist for Ascend/Flightglobal.
Peter advises the aviation industry on trends and analysis and is a regular media commentator on issues connected with aviation policy and industry trends. Caroline is the Deputy Chair of Transport for the Greater London Authority, in which capacity she studies the long term changes in travel patterns and needs that will exist in a post Covid world. Together we will discuss transport in London post-Covid, asking what it might look like, and considering how Londoners might use it.
To see more information about this event or to book a place for yourself, please click here.
DEBATE ON MATERNAL MENTAL HEALTH - MY SURVEY FOR NEW MOTHERS
I have initiated a Westminster Hall debate on Maternal Mental Health, scheduled for next Wednesday, 10 March from 2.30-4.00pm. I have heard from many constituents in the past year that they have needed support more than ever during pregnancy and childbirth. I am keen to shine a light on their experiences and improve services for them.
I am launching a survey today asking mothers who have given birth in the last 18 months about their views. Your responses will help give me a clearer picture of how the pandemic has impacted new mothers, and will inform the debate I will be leading next Wednesday. If you have had a baby recently I would be grateful if you would fill in the short (seven question) survey here.
I have written to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, this week, welcoming his holding direction on the Stag Brewery site application, which Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is now considering. The holding direction means Mayor Khan cannot grant planning permission without Mr Jenrick’s consent.
I have urged Mr Jenrick to withhold his consent for such a decision and to take this opportunity to put his vocal support for localism into practice. If Mr Jenrick’s stated support for localism is to be more than mere words, then surely he must refuse permission for the amended Former Stag Brewery application in line with the wishes of the local community and Richmond Council.
I have explained to Mr Jenrick that the developer’s preference for urban levels of height and density in the proposed scheme are wholly at odds with Mortlake’s suburban character. In addition, local streets will not be able to cope with the influx of road traffic generated by this development, both during the construction phase and after, especially while we have no firm date for the reopening of Hammersmith Bridge. You can see my letter to Mr Jenrick here.
I shall be presenting my objections to the amended application to Mayor Khan and would urge residents with concerns about it to do the same. Objections and other comments should be sent directly to the Greater London Authority (GLA) using this link by next Monday, 8th March 2021.
CATALYTIC CONVERTER THEFT
I know that many of my constituents have experienced, or are worried about, catalytic converter theft. The Met Police Safer Neighbourhood team in Kingston's Tudor ward has shared advice to consider installing a Catloc product. These are approved by Sold Secure, an independent body that tests security products. You can approach your vehicle dealership to ask for device approved by the manufacturer and tested to Sold Secure Gold Standard.
LATERAL-FLOW TESTS FOR PARENTS
If you are a member of a household, childcare bubble or support bubble of staff or a pupil attending school from next week you can get a twice-weekly rapid-response lateral flow test. Parents are encouraged to test themselves as well as their children now that pupils are returning to school.
You can pick up free home test kits from a local test site, where you will be given two packs of seven tests.
Anyone 18 or over can collect the tests. You do not need to make an appointment.
Test kits can be picked up between 1:30pm and 7:00pm at the following locations:
Stamford Brook Car Park
St Mary's University - Teddington Lock Campus
Surrey County Hall in Kingston
The former Causeway site in New Malden
For a map of the locations click here.
If you are unable to collect from a test site you can also order rapid lateral flow home test kits.
COVAX INITIATIVE TO DONATE VACCINES TO LOW-INCOME COUNTRIES
The Covax scheme was set up by the WHO, the Gavi vaccines alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to try to prevent poorer countries from being pushed to the back of the queue for Covid-19 vaccinations. Wealthier countries buying vaccines agree to help finance access for poorer nations, too. Covax hopes to deliver more than two billion doses to people in 190 countries in less than a year. The UK has committed £548m to the global Covax initiative.
If you are interested in personally contributing to the effort to vaccinate people in lower income countries, you can donate to UNICEF's work in this area here.
NEXT VIRTUAL COFFEE MORNING WEDNESDAY MARCH 10
I will be hosting my next Virtual Coffee Morning on Wednesday, March 10 at 10:00. There are still a few spaces left this week for anyone who would like to join me for a brief update on what I am doing as your MP and informal conversation about local and national issues. You can sign up for this event, or my Future Transport panel discussion, here.