I have just spent ten days isolating after a positive Covid test. It’s hugely important that everyone continues to follow the rules and gets vaccines and booster jabs when contacted by the NHS to help our community through what looks set to be another tough winter, especially with the new Omicron variant circulating.
Most people have followed the rules throughout the pandemic, but it is worrying that senior Conservatives seem to think they are above the law. The Health Secretary responsible for devising the rules broke them, but was let off by the wayward Prime Minister. Johnson also let Dominic Cummings off when his closest Special Advisor travelled to Barnard Castle, and he refused to sack the Home Secretary when she was found guilty of breaking the ministerial code. When a Tory was found guilty of an ‘egregious’ breach of the rules on cash for questions, Johnson tried to retrospectively change the system to get him off the hook. Now we discover Downing Street was holding Christmas parties last year while London was under severe lockdown restrictions and most people were cancelling plans. I followed the rules and did not see my own dad. Sadly, it was to be his last Christmas.
Last December, the Met handed out 1,681 Fixed Penalty Notices to people breaking Covid rules. I’ve been contacted by some people in Southwark – furious that they were punished whilst Tories get away scot free. It cannot be right that there is one rule for the public and another for the Prime Minister and I’ve urged Commissioner Cressida Dick to open a formal investigation.
There also seems to be one rule for private rail companies and another for London when it comes to transport funding from this Government. Ministers have delayed a new funding arrangement for Transport for London despite condition-free bailouts for private companies elsewhere. Every major capital city in the world receives national funding for its transport network, but Johnson ended that crucial help for us and we now face potential cuts to tube and bus services as a result.
Without a settlement, we could see delays to the Bakerloo Line extension; the long-awaited escalators at the Elephant and Castle station withheld; and the possible closure of the Rotherhithe Tunnel which needs urgent maintenance. This won’t just have a terrible effect in Southwark: the delays and failure to invest will cost jobs even in Yorkshire where tube trains are built. A fully functioning transport system is essential to getting our capital back on its feet and supporting jobs across the UK. London’s economy represents 23 per cent of national GDP and we were contributing £39 billion NET to the Treasury before the pandemic. If Ministers want the capital to contribute to that level again, a new settlement and resources must be provided now.
Ministers also need to deliver on their oft-repeated promise to ‘protect’ leaseholders from fire safety works to tackle shoddy cladding issues. This has been a huge concern in Southwark with people facing high bills but unable to access any of the promised help from Government. I’m calling for VAT to be scrapped on remedial fire safety works and this proposal has gained cross-party support. I hope Ministers accept the amendment to the Building Safety Bill to deliver for leaseholders and, just for once, to deliver on their promises despite so many breaches of their own manifesto commitments.