UK-AUSTRALIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT
Yesterday I had the opportunity to ask my first question of 2022 in the House Chamber, in a debate on the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement. I pointed out to Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan that they changed the economic model used to estimate the boost to UK GDP from the trade agreement, and thereby raised the predicted boost by 1000%. I asked her to justify moving the goalposts in this way.
We have voiced other concerns about the deal after last month’s impact assessment revealed, again in the small print, a £94m hit to British farmers and fisherman, as well as an expected £225m hit to the semi-processed food sector.
Martin Machray, London's NHS Chief Nurse, wrote to me this week to ask me to urge my constituents to make sure they are up to date on their Covid-19 vaccinations. He says "One dose is better than none, two is another step in the right direction, but all three are a 'gamechanger' in protecting against the worst effects of the new variant."
Opening hours for local vaccine centres are being extended and the number of appointments available are being increased. Harlequins rugby stadium has reopened as a vaccination site and other sites include RHACC in Richmond town centre and the Boots pharmacies in Kew Retail Park and Kingston Town Centre.
If you have been put off by a fear of needles, please be assured that you are not alone. NHS vaccination teams have lots of experience of helping nervous patients get their jabs and have produced this advice page about it. Be sure to let the staff at the vaccination centre know you are nervous and they will reassure you. If you have a history of fainting from vaccinations, please let them know that as well.
You can book an appointment online here
If your 12-17 year old had their first dose on or before October 15, it has now been 12 weeks and they are eligible for their second dose. I recommend taking 12-17 year olds to be vaccinated yourself rather than waiting for them to be jabbed at school - whether they are ready for their second dose or haven't had their first yet. Don't worry, they won't be jabbed again at school. Please use the links above to book appointments or find a walk-in clinic.
Anyone over 18 is eligible for a second dose after only 8 weeks, and a booster 12 weeks later.
If you have not had any Covid-19 vaccinations, please know that it is never too late to start. If you choose to go to a vaccination centre the staff will be delighted to welcome you. We don't know what the next variant will look like, but we do know that this vaccine is safe and that it is your best chance of fighting it off if you are exposed. 97% of Covid-19 patients in hospital here in south west London are not fully vaccinated with their 1st, 2nd and booster doses.
In addition to getting vaccinated, we should all be continuing other prevention strategies. You must wear a face covering in most indoor settings, including public transport, unless exempt. Please be proactive about testing yourself before coming into contact with others as well. I know there are issues with test availability, and I have been asked to advise constituents to keep trying to access tests through the national system if they don't have any at home.
If you develop symptoms, please self-isolate at home even if you can't get a test to confirm it. You can see all the details about what to do if you have symptoms OR test positive here.
If you or a family member becomes ill, the health authority's advice is to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take your regular painkiller if you feel uncomfortable. If you start to feel more unwell or breathless, visit 111.nhs.uk or call 111 on your phone, the NHS non-emergency number.
HAMMERSMITH BRIDGE NEWS
Last year, my Liberal Democrat colleague, Caroline Pidgeon AM submitted a Mayoral Question to City Hall to find out how much money has been spent on the Hammersmith Bridge ferry service since the Bridge was partially reopened to pedestrians and cyclists last summer.
It transpires that the Taskforce, under the instruction of the Department for Transport (DfT), requested in August that options be developed for how the service could be retained on a standby basis. Combined with additional holding costs related to the infrastructure, this – according to City Hall – has come to £80,000 every four weeks. I estimate this to be approximately £400,000 in total since August.
Once the Bridge was reopened to pedestrians and cyclists, and assurances were given that it would not be closed for extended periods of time, it was clear to almost everyone that the ferry service would no longer be required. To hear that, despite this, the DfT spent nearly half a million pounds on retaining a service that will never see the light of day, is incredibly frustrating.
This is money which could have gone to improving the local bus services that my constituents have been relying on in the Bridge’s absence, or into installing a rickshaw service that would have benefited the elderly and disabled. In my view this is another sign of the Government’s mismanagement of the entire situation and I was grateful to see it covered by both the BBC and the Evening Standard.
JOIN ME FOR A VIRTUAL COFFEE MORNING NEXT WEDNESDAY!
I have restarted my Virtual Coffee Mornings and will be hosting the next one this Wednesday, January 12, at 10:00am. I have greatly enjoyed being able to connect with my constituents this way, and look forward to discussing local, national and international events with attendees next week. If you would like to join me for a brief update on my work representing you followed by informal conversation among attendees, please sign up here.
MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS LINE
With Covid-19 causing renewed anxiety and disruption for people, I wanted to remind my constituents of the southwest London 24/7 mental health crisis line, which concerned residents can access 24 hours per day if they feel that someone they know is in crisis. The number is 0800 028 8000
STREETLINK FOR ROUGH SLEEPERS
I also wanted to remind residents about what to do if they know of someone sleeping rough in these cold temperatures, especially with some night shelter services suspended due to Covid-19. Please contact StreetLink to connect a homeless person to the support they need.
SOUTH WESTERN RAILWAY REDUCED TIMETABLE
Owing to Omicron-related staff shortages, SWR has had to announce the introduction of a reduced timetable from Monday 17th January. From now until then, they have advised that their services will still likely be subject to short notice cancellations or alterations. With that in mind they have recommended travellers checking, as close to their time as travel as possible, whether their planned train is still running. That can be done using this link.
PLEASE CONTRIBUTE TO RICHMOND'S DRAFT LOCAL PLAN
Richmond Council has published the first draft of the new Local Plan, which sets out a 15-year strategic vision to guide development across the borough. When finalised, the Local Plan will be the main document against which planning applications are assessed. Residents, businesses and other key organisations are invited to share their feedback.
At the heart of the draft Local Plan is the concept of a 20-minute neighbourhood – the idea that our towns and villages should be complete, compact, and connected neighbourhoods where most of the things we need for shopping or visiting are an easy walk or cycle away. This concept enables communities and residents to ‘live locally’, which improves the quality of life, bringing benefits such as healthier lifestyles, cleaner air, stronger local economies and a better resilience against climate change.
The draft Local Plan also takes a stronger approach to addressing the Climate Emergency, and to implementing requirements for affordable housing alongside all new homes.
The Council wants to hear from residents about whether the plan reflects what they want to see for the future. The consultation is open to everyone until 31 January 2022. Once it closes, Richmond Council will make changes to the Local Plan, taking account of the feedback where appropriate. There will be a further consultation, and, following examination by an independent Inspector, it is expected that the new Local Plan will be adopted in 2024. Visit the website for more information and to share your comments.
Residents with real coal fires or wood burning appliances are asked to ensure they are compliant with smoke control legislation. Better still, they are being encouraged not to burn, to help reduce dangerous air pollution. You can see the Council's page detailing indoor fire regulations here.
Wood burning stoves and coal fires are the single largest source of the pollutant ‘PM2.5’ in the UK – a form of pollution that can cause respiratory and cardiovascular illness and has been linked to cognitive disorders such as dementia. The World Health Organisation has identified it as the most serious air pollutant for human health and recent research shows that long-term exposure to PM2.5 is associated with a higher risk of ICU treatment for people with COVID-19.
The Council is working to tackle air pollution as part of its Climate Emergency Strategy. If you need to burn wood for heating your home, you could apply for the Green Grant for Homes to help with insulation. Additionally, if you are experiencing fuel poverty and have to resort to wood burning, you may be eligible for a Fuel Grant.
30 DAY DRINK LESS PROGRAMME
The 30-Day Drink Less Programme could help change your drinking habits for good. The course is delivered by DrinkChecker in partnership with Richmond Council, and has been written by expert alcohol counsellors with over 30 years of experience of supporting people to reduce their alcohol intake.
The programme involves spending 5 to 10 minutes a day reading an email and carrying out short evidence-based exercises to help you understand and manage your drinking. The course is designed specifically for you and will teach you how to stick to consuming lower levels of alcohol to support a happier and healthier lifestyle. Sign up today for free.
YOUNG PEOPLE: PLEASE RESPOND TO DESIGNS FOR NEW LEISURE CENTRE!
Kingston Council has been working on plans for a new community leisure centre and public space on the Kingfisher site in Kingston town centre. The designs have been shaped by feedback from people across the borough - and they really want to hear from children and young people on the latest proposals.
The new centre will include a 25-metre swimming pool, a splash deck for younger children, a teaching pool, a climbing wall, a rooftop five-a-side pitch, a sports hall and modern gym, as well as a cafe and playground. The council wants to make sure the new centre and surrounding public space is fun for all ages and family friendly. It's also important it meets the highest possible sustainability standards and is accessible for all, as requested by local people in the summer engagement.
The team working on the proposals is keen to hear from young people and wants to encourage all those who live, study, work and visit Kingston to look at the latest designs and take part in a young people’s survey which can be filled out here. The survey will remain live until Sunday 16 January, but you can contact the team with feedback at any time by emailing Transformkingston@kingston.gov.uk.
KINGSTON COUNCIL REACHES TARGET ON SYRIAN REFUGESS
Kingston Council, one of the first authorities in the country to commit to resettling Syrian refugees at the outbreak of the crisis there, has fulfilled its target to provide 50 individuals with a new home. The scheme began in 2015, following then Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement that the United Kingdom would resettle 20,000 Syrians over five years.
With the support of partners such as Refugee Action Kingston the Council has resettled its fifteenth Syrian family in the borough through the United Kingdom Resettlement Scheme. Each of the individuals arriving under this scheme has contributed to Kingston in their own unique way, working in a number of sectors, volunteering for their local community or developing themselves through the education system.
Memorably, in early 2020, Abdulrahman Murabieh, who arrived in Kingston under the scheme in early 2018, held a well-received exhibition of his artwork in Kingston Museum, pictured below.
If you are a local landlord who might be able to house a family in need, let the Council know.