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Richmond Park News: 7 October 2022

UPDATE ON THE ECONOMY

The economy has dominated the headlines again this week as the fallout from the Chancellor’s mini-budget continues. I am particularly concerned about the Prime Minister’s refusal to commit to uprating benefits in line with inflation, and also about the expected cuts to public services that will be necessary to fund the Conservatives' tax cuts. I am eager to return to Parliament next week to challenge the Chancellor on his plans and impress upon him the need to stabilise the economy.

I believe that the Chancellor should scrap the mini-budget entirely and introduce a fully costed budget with an accompanying OBR forecast to enable full Parliamentary scrutiny. I spoke to BBC News earlier this week to explain my thoughts. You can see a clip of my interview here.


MORTGAGE CRISIS

Richmond and Kingston have high numbers of mortgage-holders in comparison to other London boroughs; across my constituency, almost a third of homes are mortgaged. The news of rising mortgage rates will be most concerning to my constituents, especially those who are coming to the end of their fixed term mortgage or who are already on a standard variable rate mortgage. This week, I called on the Government to recall Parliament to urgently address the mortgage crisis. When Parliament returns next week I will continue to press the Government to act to save people from losing their homes and to allow first time buyers to access affordable finance to get on the property ladder.

I have also written twice to the Department for Work and Pensions to call for reform to Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI), a payment that is available to mortgage-holders in receipt of benefits to help with their interest payments. The Liberal Democrats are calling for the qualifying period for SMI to be reduced from nine months to three months, and also for the ‘zero earnings’ rule to be scrapped. This rule currently prevents anyone who is working from claiming SMI.


Former Minister for Welfare Delivery David Rutley wrote to me last month to confirm that the Government would be implementing the requested reforms, however there has been no further communication from the Department on this. I have therefore written to new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Chloe Smith to seek urgent clarification. I further asked that Parliamentary time next week be given to addressing the mortgage crisis and to immediately implementing the proposed reforms. You can read a copy of this letter here.


CALL FOR ACTION ON ACCESS TO DENTISTRY

I am deeply concerned about the still-falling number of NHS dentist appointments available for constituents in Richmond Park. Recent data uncovered by the Liberal Democrats has shown that only 29% of adults across the Boroughs of Richmond and Kingston had seen an NHS dentist within the last two years, a figure down significantly since the equivalent in 2018. Equally concerningly, an average of only 45% of children across our constituency had seen an NHS dentist within the previous twelve months, as recommended by NHS guidelines. This has dropped nearly 10% since 2018.

I have therefore spoken to the Evening Standard about this problem, as part of a call for the new Health Secretary (our fourth in four years) to make a clear commitment that every child should be able to get an NHS dental appointment when they need it. Should you wish to see my full remarks, you can do so here.

COST OF LIVING RESOURCES

Earlier today, it was reported that the Prime Minister blocked a nationwide energy-saving public information campaign due the fact that she was 'ideologically opposed' to the idea. This campaign, while not a silver bullet for the cost-of-living crisis, could have saved households an average of £300 over a winter that is going to be hard for everyone.


I have written directly to residents in my constituency who will be particularly affected by the rising cost of energy. This letter directed households in identified 'energy crisis hotspots' towards resources that may be able to help them save both money and electricity in the months going forward. If you have not received this letter, I would urge you to visit my website and check if there are any schemes available that could save you money using the link here.

ENDING NIGHT FLIGHTS


The delays and chaos at Heathrow earlier this year meant that Richmond Park was subjected to almost constant noise from aircraft flying overhead. On some nights, the last planes arrived well after midnight with the first flying overhead at 4:30 am. I believe that residents deserve seven full hours of respite a night, and for this reason I am campaigning for a full ban on flights arriving at and departing from Heathrow between 11 pm and 6 am.


This week, I reached out to MPs across west London to invite them to come together to challenge Heathrow over the disruption these flights have caused our communities and present a united call for an end to night flights entirely. Earlier this summer, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport to request that he publicly disavow any plans to relax restrictions on night flights, an action he duly took just a few weeks later. You can read the text of that letter here.


DELAYS IN VISA PROCESSING


As many of my constituents know, there are currently extreme delays at the Home Office in processing visa-related applications. I am contacted by countless constituents each week asking for an update on their application. The Home Office says that, due to their efforts to process emergency visa applications for Ukrainian nationals, a back-log of other applications has been created. While I applaud the efforts to offer Ukrainian nationals sanctuary from Putin's war in Ukraine, other applications are taking unacceptably long to process. Many of my constituents have lost job offers due to the delays.

This week I have written a letter to Home Secretary Suella Braverman on behalf of all Liberal Democrat MPs to ask the Home Office to take on greater accountability for the delays in their services. I have asked the Home Office to assess its visa processing procedures, and to bring them in line with its own timescale guidelines. I also asked the Home Office to assume responsibility for any application which does encounter a delay, by communicating this effectively and regularly with applicants. More must be done to prevent constituents who have applied for other visas from experiencing unreasonable delay. You can see my letter to the Home Office here.



CONSTITUENCY VISITS


On Tuesday I was very pleased to attend the retirement service for the Bishop of Kingston at All Saints Church. Bishop Richard Cheetham is one of the longest-serving stipendiary bishops in the Church of England. I thank Bishop Richard for his twenty years of ministry in the Kingston Episcopal Area and wish him well in his future work writing and speaking on the relationship between science and religion.


On Wednesday I met with Kingston and Richmond's Community First Responders to find out more about their work. Community First Responders are local volunteers, trained by and working under London Ambulance Service, who respond to certain types of medical emergencies in their immediate area. As they are nearby already they can get to the person needing assistance very quickly and start first aid treatment while an ambulance is en route. You can see more information about their work here, or you can contact my office if you want to be put in touch with the local group.



COFFEE MORNINGS IN THE CONSTITUENCY


I have been very pleased to have the opportunity to hold three coffee mornings in the constituency during this recess. Last Friday I spoke with Mortlake residents at the Tapestry pub in Mortlake, where we discussed a number of issues of concern to local residents, particularly around policing. I am pleased to say that the Met Police has now assigned an additional officer to the local Safer Neighbourhood Team to try to address issues around drug use, drug dealing and anti-social behavior.


Yesterday I met with Coombe Vale and Kingston Gate ward residents in Kingston, where we had a lively discussion about policy and politics. And today I met residents in North Richmond at the Crown pub for a wide ranging debate that included both local and national topics. The largest concern was the Manor Road development, which continues to concern residents, but we also talked about climate change, policing and national politics.


I will be holding my next coffee morning in East Sheen on Thursday, November 10. I invite my constituents in East Sheen to sign up to join me here.




POLICING UPDATE


Some of my constituents may have seen this week that police forces across England and Wales have committed to attending all domestic burglaries. This follows the new Met Police Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, having made a similar commitment in his first days in the job. I welcome this commitment to community policing and hope our local police will be resourced to be more active and visible.


The Met Police has also asked me to share information about National Hate Crime Awareness Week, which is next week. They invite all residents to come to Kingston Railway Station on Thursday 13th October (2pm-6pm) and meet their Safer Transport Team and the local LGBTQ+ advisors for crime prevention advice and discuss safety on public transport.


Richmond Upon Thames residents are also being asked to take part in a new consultation that will help determine the borough’s priorities for tackling crime and anti-social behaviour. The Richmond upon Thames Community Safety Partnership, which includes the police, the Council and other public bodies, is currently drafting its new Community Safety Strategy and wants to ensure that the priorities it identifies accurately reflect the views of local residents and businesses. The consultation’s findings will help shape the new strategy and set out the actions the partnership will take to improve the safety and quality of life for communities in Richmond upon Thames. To take part in the consultation and to read more about local crime trends and community safety issues, please click