Yesterday I led a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing on Test and Trace, questioning officials on how the service is responding to the current situation.
We are at a critical juncture of the pandemic now. Case rates are rising in all age groups, with London cases up 60% over just two weeks ago. We are seeing increasing outbreaks in schools and a small but steady rise in hospitalisations. With the r rate above 1, skyrocketing numbers of working people are getting 'pinged' by the NHS Covid-19 app and told to self-isolate for up to ten days.
The NHS Covid-19 app is – as Dr Jenny Harries pointed out in PAC yesterday – an important public health management tool. However, several business sectors, including retail, hospitality and the NHS clinical workforce, have expressed pressing concerns about the implications it has on their staffing.
The hospitality sector is suffering huge staff shortages already, in part due to Brexit. The prospect of young hospitality workers, many of whom have not yet had the opportunity to get their crucial second jab, having to self-isolate in large numbers, could be the final nail in the coffin for many small businesses. I therefore took the opportunity to ask the senior health officials in attendance at PAC what their plans were to address these concerns.
Dr Harries said in the PAC hearing that they are able to review the app and 'retune' it. I am happy to report that after the meeting health officials confirmed that a review would take place to reduce the sensitivity of the app. I hope this will target self-isolation more effectively.
DOING OUR PART
I think even non-football fans can't help but be impressed with the England national football team right now. Beyond their success on the pitch, the players and the manager have shown themselves to be persons of keen public spirit. From Marcus Rashford's school meals campaign, to Harry Kane's rainbow armband for Pride month, to Gareth Southgate's commitment to racial justice, they are setting us all, and especially young people, a fine example of personal responsibility and community spirit.
If we want to honour their achievements, we can do so by committing ourselves to looking out for others. Please wear your face mask in enclosed public spaces, out of consideration for the health and comfort of others, if not your own. Please get your vaccinations on time and encourage friends and family members to do the same. Please keep washing your hands, taking lateral flow tests and meeting outdoors whenever you can. Please talk to the teenagers and young adults you know about the importance of protecting themselves and others.
Lastly, Kingston hospital reported to me this week that there is lots of pressure on A&E departments, including Kingston Hospital, right now. If you need non-urgent medical care please contact your GP or call 111 instead of calling an ambulance or going to A&E.
EASING RESTRICTIONS ON SCHOOLS
Parents will have heard from their schools that the Government will be ending the bubble system for schools. This means that larger group activities such as sports days and transition days can resume.
From 16 August, under 18s will only need to self-isolate if they themselves have tested positive with Covid-19. Fully vaccinated staff who have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive will also be able to remain in the classroom. There will no longer be restrictions on in-person teaching and learning in universities.
All of these relaxations are subject to change if evolving national or local circumstances require it. You can find detailed information about Step 4 in the Department for Education's article on the Education Hub.
SCHOOL VISITS IN THE CONSTITUENCY
Today I enjoyed visits to two local primary schools, St Agatha's RC Primary in North Kingston and Thomson House School in East Sheen.
At St Agatha's I visited the year five class, which had lots of good questions for me. They asked me what it was like to debate in Parliament, what issues I most want to tackle, and to explain the difference between an election and a referendum. They were also interested in taxes and public spending, and wanted to know why schools have to pay for recycling. As their questions show, they were extremely well-informed young citizens and we had a most interesting discussion.
At Thomson House School I was given a tour of both of their school sites. I spoke to the school leadership about their funding challenges, including the need for a new roof. We also talked about traffic safety issues around the school, which I will be taking up with the Council and Network Rail for them.
COFFEE MORNING NEXT WEDNESDAY
There are still a few spaces available for my coffee morning next Wednesday, July 14 at 10:00. If you fancy a brief update about my activities in the constituency and in Westminster as your MP, followed by informal conversation about local and national topics of interest to attendees, please sign up here.
KINGSTON COUNCIL SHORTLISTED FOR LOCAL AUTHORITY OF THE YEAR
I was delighted to hear that Kingston Council has been shortlisted by the Municipal Journal (MJ) for three Achievement Awards this year and commended in two further categories.
As well as being shortlisted for ‘Local Authority of the Year’, Kingston Council is also a finalist in the category for ‘Senior Leadership Team’, and the Library Service has been shortlisted in the ‘Digital Transformation’ category. In addition, the Council’s early engagement on the Cambridge Road Estate regeneration plan and the work of the borough’s General Counsel and Monitoring Officer Lauren McCann were respectively commended in the ‘Best Social Housing Initiative’ and the ‘Rising Star’ categories.
The MJ awards are open to all councils in the UK, so the competition is considerable. Just to be shortlisted is a tremendous achievement for Kingston Council and a tribute to the exemplary work they have done throughout the pandemic. I offer them my thanks and congratulations.
RICHMOND NAMED AS MOST IMPROVED FOR HEALTHY STREETS
Not to be outdone by the neighbours, Richmond upon Thames has been announced as the highest mover in this year’s Healthy Streets Scorecard. The Scorecard compares each London borough on the actions taken to promote active and sustainable travel in line with the Mayor’s Transport Strategy targets.
The Healthy Streets initiative encourages all London boroughs to implement key measures that aim to improve air quality, reduce road danger, boost active lifestyles and reduce carbon emissions. The measures include 20mph speed limits, controlled parking zones, protected cycle lanes, traffic-free streets around schools, and safe walking and cycling routes to schools. Richmond upon Thames is the highest mover on this year’s scoreboard, and is third overall among the outer London boroughs.
I was especially delighted to hear that Richmond has the distinction of the lowest pedestrian casualty rate out of all the London boroughs. This is a wonderful achievement and I congratulate them too.
LOCAL SMALL CHARITABLE GRANTS
Tesco has written to me to say that their local charitable grants scheme, Tesco Community Grants, is now open for applications from local charities and will relaunch in stores in July. Community groups and charities will be able to apply for a grant of up to £1,500. The projects that receive grants have traditionally been chosen through customer voting in-store, which was paused during Covid-19. They intend to reinstate customer voting in-store next week. Local organisations can apply by visiting www.tesco.com/communitygrants.
533 BUS ROUTE ALTERATIONS
Transport for London (TfL) has written to say that the 533 bus route will be altered slightly to try to improve its punctuality. They report that an increase in traffic and roadwork projects have slowed down the buses, and the service has struggled to achieve regular intervals between buses. In response, buses have sometimes turned around early to try to catch up with the schedule.
TfL knows how inconvenient this can be for riders. They therefore decided to start operating the 533 from Hammersmith lower bus station. The change simplifies the route, reduces its end-to-end running time, and should improve its reliability. The route will also omit certain stops in Chiswick, which are served by other routes, further improving its run time. These changes were originally proposed to take effect from late August but, given the disruption people have been experiencing, TfL has brought them in sooner.
NEW AIR QUALITY SENSORS FOR RICHMOND
Richmond Council will soon be joining the ‘Breathe London’ trial which supplies access to a network of air quality sensors and pollution data. This will significantly reduce the costs of sourcing accurate air pollution data and provide a more detailed picture of local pollution.
As part of the InnOvaTe Project, the Council will combine Breathe London air quality monitors and Vivacity traffic sensors to provide data which will give a deeper understanding of different transport modes, movement patterns and their impact on air quality, and consider future schemes aimed at understanding the impact of local and London-wide initiatives on air quality.
The sensors will be installed in town centres, areas of development, areas under consideration for transport initiatives, and near selected schools, including East Sheen Primary School and The Russell School in Ham.
UPDATES TO LICENSING AND GAMBLING POLICIES
Richmond Council has approved a new draft Licensing Policy and a draft Statement of Principles on gambling. These are now both out for public consultation. The closing date for the Licensing Act Policy consultation is the 19th September 2021. The closing date for the Gambling Act consultation is the 6th September 2021. In both cases the focus is on reducing risk to vulnerable residents and children.
The draft Licensing Policy includes new clauses relating to licensing hours and film classifications, among other amendments and urges applicants to apply for a Temporary Event Notice at least two months in advance of the event. More details can be found on the Council’s website here.
The Statement of Principles on gambling highlights factor to do with premises locations that will be of particular note when deciding an application. The Council is also keen to hear your views on whether to continue the Council’s ‘no casino’ policy, which was approved in 2006 and re-stated it in 2009, 2013, 2015 and 2018. They intend to carry on with this policy if it reflects local public opinion. You can participate in the gambling consultation here.
ADDITIONAL WALK-IN VACCINATION SITE: TOMORROW AT KINGSTON ACADEMY
This Saturday, 10 July, a one-day only walk-in vaccination event will be held at Kingston Academy, Canbury, from 10am-6pm. The walk-in event will be offering the AstraZeneca vaccine for those aged 40+ and the Pfizer vaccine for people under 40. No appointment needed!