It’s been a pleasure to see life starting to get back to normal. I hope you’ve all been enjoying the sunshine, visiting pubs and restaurants, and seeing friends and family again. I spent last Saturday with local residents in Caterham Barracks and had the pleasure of meeting Sonia Hunt, our local Towncrier. I can’t wait to see her in action soon.
While I’ll be hard on the campaign trail up to 6 May, I’ll also be making pitstops to get a chocolate milkshake at Caterham Sweet and Savoury Waffles, order myself a dosa at the Kerala, and finishing it off with a pint at the Harrow. As we continue to open up, I know all of you will be looking to shop local and support our brilliant pubs, restaurants and businesses.
Just as a reminder for businesses, the Government’s Restart Grant scheme for the hospitality, leisure, accommodation, personal care and non-essential sectors is now live and worth up to £18,000 for bigger hospitality, accommodation and leisure sites and up to £6,000 for non-essential retailers. Please make sure your favourite local businesses are in the know.
Making sure our young people don’t fall behind after the challenges of the past year is another priority of mine. I was very pleased to have collaborated with local leaders to secure a Youth Hub for East Surrey, which launched on 1 March and has already supported over 20 young people into work and training opportunities. In the months ahead, the Hub will have a physical presence in the Harlequin Theatre, the Workary and East Surrey College, with the physical launch in mid-June.
Currently, we’re on course to keep moving forward with the roadmap out of lockdown. At the time of writing, Britain has administered over 47 million vaccinations, with more than 679,296 people across Surrey Heartlands receiving a vaccine. Once again, I would just like to pay tribute to all those involved in this remarkable success story.
Rapid testing will also be increasingly important in our efforts to prevent the spread of the virus and new variants from emerging, so I would urge local residents to take advantage of the free rapid tests that the Government has made available. You can pick them up from nine in ten pharmacies, from test sites, or by ordering them on gov.uk for home delivery.
I’m sure like many of you I’ve been watching the situation in India over the past few days with my heart in my mouth. I know, like me, some of you will have friends and families out there who you’re very concerned about. To reassure you, Britain is playing a strong role and was the first out of the blocks with help for the Indian Government. We sent nine airline container loads of supplies, including 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators.
Indeed, throughout the pandemic, Britain has done absolutely everything we can to protect our friends and partners, from our role as one of the largest donors of the global vaccine alliance, Covax, to our work with AstraZeneca to get vaccines on the ground across the world for zero profit. I’ll be keeping a close eye on matters in the weeks ahead.
Finally, earlier this month, many local residents wrote to me to share their profound sadness at the death of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. On behalf of the residents of East Surrey, I wrote a letter of condolence to Her Majesty The Queen and extended our deep gratitude for all that he did for us throughout seven decades of service, including fulfilling eighteen solo engagements and accompanying the Queen on twelve official visits in Surrey since 2000.
Just two days prior, I was extremely saddened to learn of the passing of Peter Ainsworth. My heart goes out to his wife Claire and to his entire family. He had been wonderfully kind and supportive to me since I’d been elected. Even now, every time his name comes up with residents, it’s clear to me how much he touched people’s lives and how highly he was regarded for his work in East Surrey. In recent years, his work on the environment has helped to set us on a path to a greener future, from his role as the Shadow Secretary of State for Defra to his expert Chairship of the Environment Agency. As I said in my maiden speech, he was a green giant of a politician and one who will be missed by many.