Letter from Claire Coutinho MP – March 2022

I can’t start this month’s column without addressing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

All people have a right to freedom and democracy, including the 44 million people in Ukraine. This is not a Western philosophy, it is the foundation of humanity.

Alongside our international partners, the government is now imposing the largest and most severe package of sanctions that Russia has ever seen, as well as coordinating a response with our allies and partners to make sure that Russia cannot further undermine European stability.

We are also doing all we can to support the Ukrainian government and its people in the face of this barbarism.

For those with friends and family in Ukraine, I know this is a time of anguish. My inbox is open for anyone who needs help. You can contact me at claire.coutinho.mp@parliament.uk and I’ll do all I can to provide assistance.

Storm Eunice

From power outages and road closures to damaged property, I know many of you experienced huge difficulties during Storm Eunice and its aftermath. But I was so heartened, once again, to see neighbours looking out for each other, and the whole community putting an arm around vulnerable residents who needed support.

I would also like to thank our local pubs, such as the Dog and Duck, and the Bell in Outwood, for opening their doors to locals. Whether it was to provide much-needed warmth, electricity to charge a phone, or a hot meal, it was the exact same spirit we saw throughout lockdown. It made me proud to represent East Surrey – thank you.

End of restrictions

Due to the success of our vaccination programmes, with cases and hospitalisations falling, and the link between infection and severe disease substantially weakened, we finally saw an end to domestic legal restrictions on 24 February.

I know many of you feel apprehensive about this, but a free society cannot allow its government to hold such sweeping powers in its reserves indefinitely. With a positive set of data in front of us, I firmly believe this was the right moment to shift from legal restrictions to personal responsibility.

Visits and tours

After two years of restrictions, it was such a pleasure to welcome three groups of East Surrey residents to the Houses of Parliament in early February. When you work here every day, it’s easy to forget how rich the Palace of Westminster‘s history is. This is the site where Henry VIII lived, Charles I was sentenced to death, and Winston Churchill lay in state. I was so pleased to share its magic, beauty and history with more than 60 residents.

On the topic of tours, I was delighted to welcome the Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, Guy Opperman MP, to East Surrey recently to visit the Arc in Caterham. Run by the inspirational Caterham Barracks Community Trust, the Arc is an outstanding example of what communities can do when they’re trusted to deliver. In this case, delivering socially, financially and environmentally sustainable housing. Thank you to Dick Moran and team for showing us around and for all that you do.

It was such a pleasure to pop into Lily’s of Lingfield recently and chat with owner Jacqueline, who pours her heart and soul into this family-run business. I’ve much enjoyed my lovely cabbage flower, and how much I made Jacqueline laugh when I wondered if you could eat it! (No, in case you were wondering…)

I also had a cracking hot chocolate from Robertson’s Coffee Shop in Oxted this month – much needed in this freezing weather! Andrew and team at Robertson’s roast all their own beans on-site and have a lovely little café area in the back if you ever need a quiet space to work or meet with someone.

From broadband, to business loans, to bringing forward job opportunities for disabled people, I also had really productive meetings with both the East Surrey Business Club and the Federation of Small Businesses. A huge thanks to Les Green, Ray Abrahams and teams for all they do to support East Surrey’s economy.

One of the great joys of being an MP is visiting our brilliant local schools, so I was delighted to get the chance to visit St Mary’s Church of England Junior School recently.

I chatted with some of the fantastic pupils there about a range of issues, from building resilience, to the biology of the brain, to maths mastery (which as a self-confessed maths nut, I thoroughly enjoyed!). Thanks again to headteacher Mrs Lewis and team for such a warm welcome.

Another highlight was joining the Windmill United CAMEO (Come and Meet Everyone) group in Smallfield to speak to the friendship group about what it’s like to be a new MP. Afterwards, I visited RJ Heron, Dr Tom Rustom, Dr Gillian Orrow and team at the Horley Health Hub to discuss how they’re helping patients to improve their health, wellbeing and social welfare by connecting them to community services. And then I made my way to watch Whyteleafe AFC triumph to a fantastic 6-1 victory against Tooting Bec FC.

In the House of Commons, I was pleased to speak in a debate in favour of setting up a Community Wealth Fund.  This would give communities the power to invest in local opportunities, such as the new Whyteleafe & Kenley Community Hub being worked on by Deano Cline, Sara Jones, and Marcus Jones. And I was pleased to highlight some of our other inspirational community leaders from Janine Battersby to Kay Hammond to Nick and Judith Calver.

I was also proud to speak in a debate on the British Sign Language (BSL) Bill, which seeks to make BSL one of the six indigenous languages of Britain so that deaf and hard-of-hearing people can have access to the same services available to the hearing population. In my speech, I raised the cases of two local residents, Janet from Caterham and Robyn from Oxted.

Janet recently moved to East Surrey from Nottingham to be closer to her children. She told me she would much rather be working than have to be on welfare, but she said she had found it extremely challenging to find a job due to her communication needs as a deaf BSL user.

Robyn told me about her experience of supporting deaf students in school, and how they improved in leaps and bounds when the right support was given. In researching the Bill, I also heard of instances where people could not take their preferred exams because the facilities were not there.

This is not acceptable. As a country, we should never write anyone off. Instead, we must ensure that we’re able to harness the talents of all our people, which is why I was so proud to give the Bill my wholehearted support.

Finally, I know you will join me in wishing Her Majesty well as she makes history by celebrating her Platinum Jubilee. She has served her country for 70 years and is the embodiment of duty, dedication and public service. I was also very touched by her message of support for Camilla, who we’ve developed a soft spot for in our office. God bless Her Majesty, and I look forward to celebrating with you all at what I’m sure will be wonderful local street parties in June.


MP for East Surrey Claire Coutinho
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