As part of my work with the East of Surrey Local Economic Taskforce that I established in June to support the local economy has made a lot of progress this month, I visited Gatwick Airport last week to discuss the challenges they’re currently facing and what I can do to help. I recently wrote to the Transport Secretary this month to ask him to consider Gatwick’s suggestion to replace or shorten quarantining with an approach centred around testing. I’m very pleased that the Government has since set up the Global Travel Taskforce, which will operate in collaboration with the transport industry, the tourism and local business sectors, and the private testing sector, as well as engaging with partners from governments across the globe. It will consider what steps Britain can take to enable the safe and sustainable recovery of international travel – an industry on which I know so many local jobs and livelihoods in Caterham depend. Two weeks ago, neighbouring MP Crispin Blunt and I also met with the Minister for Skills, Gillian Keegan MP, to push for £2.5 million for East Surrey College’s Advanced Technology Centre. This proposal is even more vital considering the need to skill up our young people into the jobs of the future. The meeting was very constructive, and both Crispin and I were encouraged by the Minister’s positive response, and we will continue to work hard on getting this funding.
Many people have been understandably asking about my position on Free School Meals. To be clear, Labour’s motion was not about the provision of Free School Meals – which I support and which the Government provides. It was about whether vouchers are the right way to prevent children going hungry during school holidays. And, as someone who has worked with charities on the frontline in the most disadvantaged areas of the country, I can tell you that they are not the best solution. It was often a white good, eg a refrigerator, that would financially tip people over the edge for that month, which is why I’m pleased that the Government has provided local authorities with a £63 million fund to support vulnerable families with food and other essential supplies – £788,015.67 of which went to Surrey County Council. The Government has also made the benefits system more generous – to the tune of £9 billion, which is £1,000 more directly in people’s pockets every year. We have also increased Local Housing Allowance, created a £180 million fund to help struggling families with their rent, and awarded £16 million to food charities. This is also on top of setting up a £500 million hardship fund for vulnerable families and funding a Holiday Activities and Food Programme, backed up by £9 million, which supported up to 50,000 to get healthy meals.
You may have seen my speech in the House of Commons this month about housing and planning proposals. I told the Secretary of State that I have serious concerns about centrally designed housing numbers, which don’t take in to account a local area’s capacity to deliver. I emphasised that the final target must be decided with local input, and it must not be binding until agreed by both local and central government. In the past 10 months alone in this job, I have heard from families in Smallfield facing raw sewage overspill inside of their homes because the sewers are at capacity, and from the Caterham Flood Action Group, which says that inadequate maintenance and overdevelopment have put existing homes at risk of flooding. I also stressed the sore need for investment in our creaking junctions and local roads, which my Local Economic Taskforce is also working on.
Last week, I signed a letter to the Environment Secretary with other MPs across Surrey to ask him to urge Natural England to begin the review into the boundary of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) – which Natural England agreed to over five years ago. Surrey Hills was designated as an AONB in 1958, making a second oldest AONB in existence, so it really doesn’t come as a surprise that it’s one of the areas most in need of urgent review. All six councils involved support this review, and I know from the many emails I receive and from it being raised in my surgery just how important Surrey Hills is to local residents. Frankly, it’s time to get on with it so that we can ensure this environmental treasure chest of nature and wildlife is protected and preserved for generations to come.
Finally, we have seen the introduction of the new Covid-19 tier system, with Caterham currently remaining in Tier 1 (medium alert). This means that the rule of six still applies and people should work from home where they can do so effectively. Where this isn’t possible, employers must ensure that workplaces are Covid-secure. I know that these are worrying times for many of you, and I appreciate that these changes can be hard to keep up with – so please do keep checking my Facebook page here for regular updates, and don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need assistance.