One of the reasons I supported this second lockdown was extensive talks with East Surrey Hospital and our local NHS Trust and looking at the most reliable data which, in my view, is hospital admissions. It was clear that our elective surgery, including endoscopies, was at risk. I have spoken to Victoria Robinson, too, from Cancer Research, and she outlined her concerns about delays in diagnoses and some people’s reluctance to speak with their doctors. As your local MP, I just want to emphasise that if you have existing medical appointments and check-ups, you should continue to attend them. And if you find anything irregular when carrying out self-checks or if you think you need to speak to your doctor about a medical issue – no matter how small – you can and should do so as normal. The NHS is there to serve you – and it remains fully operational. I do want to leave you in no doubt, though, that I am deeply against fighting the virus with lockdowns in the long term. That’s why I sought – and received – assurances that, on 2 December, our exit from lockdown in East Surrey will be judged on our local rate of infection, not on a national ‘R’ rate.
In light of the new restrictions, the Chancellor announced an extension of the furlough to the end of March – employees will receive 80% of their usual salary for hours not worked, up to £2,500 per month. We’re also providing even more generous support to the self-employed by increasing the support to the self-employed from 40 per cent of trading profits to 80 per cent for November, December and January. The Government has also made available businesses grants of up to £3,000 per month for businesses that have been legally required to close, and Tandridge District Council’s scheme is now open. More discretionary grants will also be made available to some businesses severely impacted but not forced to close by Covid-19, and I have asked that we ensure they are as wide as possible to allow us to help hard-hit businesses who might not qualify for other schemes.
I was also pleased to hear that Caterham on the Hill and Old Coulsdon Flood Alleviation Scheme has received notification from the Environment Agency that funding for the Property Flood Resilience plans have been approved. I was delighted to raise the work of the Caterham Flood Action Group in a recent speech in Westminster and I will continue to follow this important issue. I was also thrilled to visit the Lingfield Nature Reserves recently, established just over 25 years ago in 1994. It’s remarkable that in such a short time they have such a wide range of species – for example, they now have more types of butterfly than in the whole of Northern Ireland. I also signed a letter to the Environment Secretary last month with other MPs across Surrey to ask him to urge Natural England to begin – at long last – the review into the boundary of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
I met with the Headteacher of Caterham School recently to discuss pupil outcomes. I would like to thank Ceri Jones and all of his staff for the heroic work they’ve done this year, and indeed all school staff across Caterham for keeping the show on the road for their pupils. As part of the East of Surrey Local Economic Taskforce that I set up with Crispin Blunt MP to support the local economy, I also met with the Minister for Skills, Gillian Keegan MP, last month to push for £2.5 million for East Surrey College’s Advanced Technology Centre, which could provide as many as 200 additional placements to equip our young people for the jobs of the future. I was encouraged by the Minister’s positive response and will continue to work hard on getting this funding.
Finally, I’d like to wish you all a happy Christmas and extend my best wishes to you and your families for the new year. I know that 2020 has not been the year that we had planned – it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting when I became your Member of Parliament last December. It has been a year characterised by unprecedented challenge and tragic loss. But residents across East Surrey can be so proud of their response to those difficulties. From local charities helping those in need, to new groups of volunteers mobilising through Facebook to do their bit, the community spirit across our towns and villages shone through and was so inspiring to be a part of. I hope that with the recent news of promising vaccines on the horizon, 2021 will bring a return to our normal way of life.