Easter 2021 Update
It has been a challenging start to 2021, but my work as your local Member of Parliament has continued. My Easter 2021 Update is available below. As ever, if you would like to sign up to my mailing list, you can do so on this page or by emailing email@example.com.
It is hard to believe that just little over a year ago, the Prime Minister announced that individuals across the country would be ordered to ‘stay home’. We were faced with having to spend the long Easter weekend, a time when many of us usually devote time to seeing loved ones, locked down, so that we could keep ourselves and those around us safe. This year, although social contact will be limited, it is a much brighter picture. Restrictions will allow us to meet in groups of six, or two households, outdoors, so that we can spend that quality time with those who we haven't been able to see in person for quite some months.
After what has been an incredibly challenging and difficult twelve months, I am pleased that the end does finally seem to be in sight. The continued success of the UK’s vaccination programme and the hard work and sacrifices of the British people means that a return to normality by summer is now a very real prospect, as set out in the Prime Minister’s cautious yet optimistic roadmap in February.
As your Member of Parliament, I have continued to support residents as we navigate our way through probably one of the most difficult starts to a new year we have ever experienced. Work in the constituency and in Parliament has carried on, clearly a little differently to usual, and I would like to share some of that work over the past few months with you.
If you would like to see more of my latest news and updates, please do visit my website here.
Offering support to constituents at one of my virtual surgeries
The vaccination programme is one of the largest of its kind in our nation’s history, and one we can all really be proud of. Its continued success is a testament to the fantastic efforts of all those involved, and I pay tribute to everybody, particularly at a local level, who has worked at breakneck speed to make this possible.
With the scale of such an unprecedented operation, it was unsurprising that constituents came to me with questions and concerns at the start of the year. This included asking when they might receive their vaccine invitation, why other areas seemed to have made more progress than others and the distance that those who had received their invitations were being asked to travel. I am pleased to report that correspondence on these matters has now become very few and far between as the programme has really started to take shape, targets are being exceeded and more information has become available.
Across the country, more vaccination sites have opened and I am pleased that, locally, residents have a good choice of venues. This has been particularly beneficial for the more vulnerable in our community, for whom travel may be difficult or unsafe. I personally have been pleased to accept invitations to three local sites serving the constituency: Tithe Farm, Grim’s Dyke Golf Club and Bury Street Youth Centre.
It has been reassuring to see that the centres all have incredibly impressive set ups and are efficiently run with exceptional care from staff and volunteers. I am delighted to have received positive feedback from patients who have been very happy with their experiences at all three sites.
At the heart of the rollout are the volunteers and it has been a real pleasure to meet with some of those who have come forward to help our NHS colleagues in making sure that hundreds of residents are able to get their Covid-19 vaccinations every day. It really is thanks to the individual and collective efforts of everyone involved that this was able to happen so quickly and with such efficiency.
I do encourage all residents who are eligible to receive the vaccine to please come forward when called. We need to make sure that we are doing as much as possible to keep our loved ones and the wider community safe.
Lastly, I appreciate that there have been concerns about the supply of vaccines, particularly those expecting to receive their second dose of the Pfizer. I have spoken with the Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment, Nadhim Zahawi MP, and I have been assured that there are no delays with this vaccine. Deliveries have continued from the EU manufacturing plants and there is sufficient supply in the system for patients in the UK who need it.
If you do have any concerns regarding the vaccine, please do not hesitate to get in contact with my office.
With the Dales Pharmacy team who are running the vaccine rollout at Grim's Dyke Golf Club
With lead clinicians at the Tithe Farm vaccination site
Support for Businesses in Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner
I am aware that the lockdown measures announced by the Prime Minister in January came as a huge blow to businesses who I know were pleased to have spent the months before operating on a ‘business as usual’ basis within our ‘new normal’.
As local MP, I have wanted to ensure that I keep in regular contact with businesses across the constituency and to offer all the support I can at this time. As well as helping business owners to obtain local authority grants and writing to government about individual issues and concerns, I have also been holding virtual surgeries and roundtables with business owners.
Most recently, I was pleased to take part in a virtual roundtable with business owners from across the constituency, organised by Natwest. It was really useful to hear first-hand about how they are facing the challenges thrown up by the pandemic, as well as their views on the local economy and local business environment. I will be holding further roundtables over the coming months and look forward to meeting, albeit virtually, with more business owners then.
Looking at the bigger picture, it was pleasing to see that the Chancellor’s 2021 Budget delivered on the Government’s commitment to provide security and stability to businesses and individuals, with over £407billion of support being provided over this year and next.
Despite this continued support, I know many families are still struggling. If this is you please feel free to reach out to me and my office and we will do all we can to help.
You can also find out more about the Government’s financial support here.
Speaking with local businesses at the virtual roundtable hosted by Natwest in February
Ahead of children returning to schools in January, many of you got in touch with me to raise your concerns about the safety and welfare of both pupils and staff. Although evidence has continued to suggest that schools are safe environments, the increased transmissibility we were seeing of the new variant meant that, unfortunately, it was necessary to include schools in the latest lockdown.
Now, after what has been a disruptive twelve months for children, their education and the relationships they form at school, I was pleased to see a return to the classroom for most pupils at the start of last month. I am grateful for the hard work and efforts of headteachers and staff from schools across the constituency to ensure that they have been able to welcome pupils back safely.
It is crucial that we make sure schools have the measures in place to guarantee we do not have to go back on re-opening, safeguarding children’s educational opportunities and wellbeing. I was able to seek reassurance from the Prime Minister on this following the announcement of his roadmap, which you can view here.
Seeking assurances from the Prime Minister following the roadmap announcement in February
Earlier this year, I invited all early year’s providers within the constituency to a virtual surgery to discuss the views and concerns of the sector. In general, they seemed pleased to be remaining open, but did seek reassurance from the Government, particularly around staff safety. We also discussed some of the pressing issues around the continuation of Local Authority funding for absent children, testing programmes and the vaccine rollout.
The surgery also served as a good opportunity to discuss some of the ongoing work I am doing with the APPG on Childcare and Early Education where, alongside colleagues, I have been seeking dramatic policy and funding reform to the sector. We know from other places in the world, and hear time and time again from the experts who speak to the group, that it is the money we spend on early years that makes the biggest difference on the course of a child’s life.
Speaking with early year's providers at the virtual surgery in January
I held a further two surgeries with headteachers from both primary and secondary schools across Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner. The discussions we had shared some of the same concerns as I heard from the early year’s providers, particularly around safety. I have always appreciated that staff are anxious and that is why I have continued to push the Government to make as much of this data as possible clearly accessible to members of the public. You can view an example of this at one of the Education Select Committee’s Oral Evidence Sessions from January, where I questioned experts on school safety, including Dr Jenny Harries (Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England), which you can view here.
The overarching message from the experts and from me is that education settings are incredibly safe, and the risk of community transmission is very low. The Department for Education and Public Health England are continuing to follow all the data across the country and are regularly monitoring staff absences which, in many cases, are lower than other workplace settings. In fact, studies show that prevalence among teachers is 15%, which is lower than the general population at 18%, confirming that schools are safe environments. I hope that this, together with the introduction of regular testing, will bring an added level of reassurance to staff, pupils and parents.
Discussing safety and wellbeing concerns with local secondary school headteachers
Since last writing, we have made some progress on the sewer realignment works being undertaken by Thames Water. Unfortunately, the work that is planned cannot be avoided because the Thames Water sewer, which currently runs from the golf course, under the Greenway and roughly across the allotment site, needs to be diverted. I am in no doubt that this proposal, which sees the sewer being diverted to the West, will be highly impactful for the local community. However, I am also conscious that this is the least impactful option and Thames Water went to great lengths during our last meeting to talk through why the other proposals were not practical.
As I have said, I do think we are making progress with this piece of work and the position we find ourselves in now is a great deal better than what had originally been suggested. For example, the original proposal required the occupation and destruction of the entire allotment site with a lot more equipment and materials being stored on site. This is thankfully not going to be the case any longer.
I have seen an increase in correspondence with regards to the footpath that runs towards the allotments, from the Soldiers Return. It is my understanding that the footpath will be preserved. It may be the case that there will have to be some temporary closure, but for the majority of the works the footpath will be retained.
The other concerns that I have recently made representations on are to do with the works in the Colne Valley, namely the increased working hours and the water quality in the viaduct.
Following my recent meeting with Andrew Stephenson, I have now received further assurances around the works due to be undertaken within the Colne Valley. Constituents can be assured this is something the Department for Transport are actively watching and holding HS2's feet to the fire.
In terms of the working hours, I can understand why this will be needed on occasion, especially when pouring concrete. However, when this news was first made public, constituents understandably assumed the worst and so having these reassurances in writing is very useful. Additionally, contractors will be working to the recognised industry benchmark "Best Practicable Means". This will commit the construction team to minimising both noisy and night-time works.
The second matter that many constituents have particular concern over is how the works in building the viaduct will affect the water quality in the lakes. I have spoken about the legal limitations on how much data HS2 are able to publish in the past, but I hope that the involvement of Affinity Water and the Environment Agency will be welcomed by those constituents who are worried. These plans have been put together in conjunction with these other stakeholders and I am especially pleased to learn that they are continuing to monitor the water quality and flow as the works progress.
The full letter from the Minister is available on my website here.
With HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson in the constituency last year
Local Health Matters
In addition to the ongoing efforts with the vaccine rollout and tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, I have been keeping on top of some of the day-to-day health issues in our area. The two main projects which I have had constituents speak to me about are the redevelopment proposals for Northwood and Pinner Cottage Hospital and the review into the future of the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre. I know both issues are incredibly emotive and are important to residents.
Many constituents will be aware that fresh plans are being considered by NHS Property Services for the Northwood and Pinner Cottage Hospital and they are in the process of running a public engagement campaign with Cascade Communications. At the start of last month, I met with the team at NHS Property Services, and we discussed the plans at some depth.
In terms of the Hospital redevelopment, I think we need to be cautious about what we object to. What we currently have is the possibility of a new site, which is approximately 50% larger than the existing site. I have two concerns in opposing the plans; the first is that we will push the timeline for this project back many years. This debate has been ongoing for 17 years already and if we keep having the same discussions, we could easily find ourselves in the same position in another 17 years time; the second is that we should be careful about making out that there is a lack of regard for the existing building. I have heard a number of people suggesting that it should be knocked down to start afresh, and while I can see the attraction of something like that, the NHS may conclude that if there is no great appreciation for the site, then they will sell it and put something in at Mount Vernon instead. This is hypothetical of course, but I do think we need to be careful about what we wish for.
Turning to look at the land sale and future housing development, I again think we need to take a step back and not get carried away with this. While there was a lot of detail on landscaping and brick choice etc. in the presentation, this again is all quite hypothetical. Once the land is sold, a future developer could apply for something very different and the buildings might be different in design as well. This is not to say that we don’t need to get this part of the project right, but I just think the reality of that project will probably be different to what we have been shown.
While this is an NHS project and it is ultimately a decision for them, I will continue to discuss this with the team leading this within the NHS, colleagues at Hillingdon and local residents to try and ensure we have a shared view going forward.
Outside the Northwood and Pinner Cottage Hospital in December 2019
What has been proposed for the Northwood and Pinner Cottage Hospital site
I have also met with the team at NHS England who are leading on the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre Review and I do understand the issues which are at play. There was previously a clinician led review of the site, and they made a number of recommendations for how the cancer centre needs to be running going forward.
The first of these was a change in admissions policy. The reason for this is that far too many patients were being admitted and then later requiring transfer to another site. This admissions policy has now been changed but it does expose some of the other long-term problems.
The second recommendation was that the cancer centre needs to be run, but as a specialist cancer trust and not a general hospital trust. This is now in the process of taking place and, from next year, the site will no longer be run by East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust and will transfer to UCLH. This will not affect the on-the-ground staffing as the clinical team will remain the same, it is just a change of management with better specialism.
The final and most significant change is connected to the first point and that is that the Centre needs to be located at an acute site. The reason for this is because as populations are getting older, more patients are also living with other illnesses or conditions which require treatment alongside their treatment for cancer. Furthermore, when complications arise from these therapies, patients require acute clinical opinions from other specialties. This cannot be provided for at Mount Vernon and so hence the need for a new site.
The NHS has been open about the options this presents. The first is a complete move to a new acute site and the second is a majority move with a smaller day centre remaining. This second option is obviously the best case scenario from our point of view and is the option I have now been pushing for. At present, this is fortunately the preferred option within the NHS.
In terms of the move, the emerging option which looks to be most suitable is to have the centre located at Watford. This would be a standalone centre, within its own building and would continue to be run by UCLH. However, it would offer an enhanced service from what it is currently able to offer. Some of the sickest patients are currently having to travel into London for treatment because of the limitations of the existing site and facilities.
I will be honest with the fact that the most affected patients are going to be those living in Hillingdon. However, given the size of the Mount Vernon catchment area, and that only 14% of their patients are from Hillingdon, we need to be realistic about where the most appropriate site might be. The team on this review have done a lot of research on travel times to all of the possible options and that is why Watford is appearing to be the preferred option. Given all this context, I think the most effective thing to do is to ensure we retain the day centre as has been discussed.
I am continuing to follow this all closely and a full public consultation is due to launch in June this year ahead of a final decision being made in October, but this is where my thoughts are currently at.
Our local area continues to see pressure from developers. While new homes and business opportunities are welcome, this must not come at the expense of the character of the area and the loss of precious green spaces, the value of which has been reinforced during the Covid lockdowns. I have been pleased to support residents campaigning against inappropriate development that affect our area, ranging from communications masts to housing, and will oppose any attempt to turn green spaces such as Joel Street Farm into development sites. At the same time, it has been valuable to be able to have constructive input into the future of Mount Vernon and Northwood and Pinner Cottage Hospital sites as I push for long term plans giving them a sustainable future in service of the community.
In addition to my regular contributions in the chamber I have been keeping very busy in Westminster, albeit largely virtually.
Since we returned at the start of the year, there has been a lot of attention on schools returning safely and how we can make sure we do not see a repeat of last year with GCSEs and A Levels. As you can imagine, this is something the Education Select Committee has been following very closely. In terms of how GCSEs and A Levels are going to take place, I am pleased that the Department for Education has listened to the views of pupils, teachers and parents. This year students will receive teacher assessed grades based on what they have been taught. In terms of how this will work in practice, teachers will be able to draw on a range of evidence when determining grades, including mock exams, coursework, and other work completed as part of a pupil’s course, such as essays or in-class tests. Additionally, teachers will have the option to make use of exam questions provided by exam boards. There is no hard and fast assessment that students must complete, but a range of options which teachers can draw on to help support the grade they have awarded to students. I hope this flexibility will mean that the results are fair for those young people who will be receiving their grades this year.
Continuing the theme of education, I am very pleased to be one of the founding members of the APPG on Racial Equality in Education. This new group will aim to support children and students from ethnic minority backgrounds, to enhance educational environments, and to increase racial diversity in teaching across the UK. We recently held a very successful public launch event, and it was great to bring my experience from the select committee to the discussion. I particularly focused on the role early childhood education has on bringing about racial equality.
At the launch event for the APPG on Racial Equality and Education last week
Another APPG I work with is the APPG on Housing and Planning, where I currently sit as Chair. Following on from the report we published last year, we have had a number of meetings to look at the future of housing need, and most recently we held a roundtable to look at the role that elderly housing has to play. I have been keen to promote the need for better provisions for step down housing. When we look at areas such as ours, this sort of development can simultaneously can provide excellent housing for older generations within the existing community, as well as freeing up existing housing supply. This is a model which is well established in other countries and as we see increasing reforms to leaseholds, this is something we should be developing further. This is a discussion I am keen to continue and ensure we have a consistent message from industry.
Chairing the recent APPG for Housing and Planning meeting
Most recently, I had the pleasure of leading a debate in Parliament to commemorate World Social Work Day 2021. It was an honour to lead this debate and pay special thanks to all the incredible work done by social workers. During the debate, we heard some very emotional and personal stories from other Members and there was a strong sense of cross-party goodwill and desire for higher recognition of the professional contribution that social workers make. A link to the full debate can be found here.
Leading the Westminster Hall debate on World Social Work Day 2021
Local Council Information
At a local level both Hillingdon and Harrow Councils are continuing to deliver support to our community. To access their information pages concerning the local response, and to find out more about assistance you can access, please visit the frequently updated pages on their websites here:
I hope that by the next time I write to you we will be looking at a much brighter picture, with less virtual meetings and more in-person contact. In the meantime, please do continue to follow government guidance to keep yourself, your loved ones and our community safe.
Looking forward, I hope that I will be able to meet with some of you face-to-face once restrictions permit, but for the time being I will continue to be holding my surgeries virtually. If you would like to contact me for any help or support, please do email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01923 01923 822876.
I hope that you do have the chance to spend some time with your loved ones over the coming weeks and wish you all a happy and healthy Easter.