Like many of you, I have been very moved by the late Queen’s passing. To me, it felt like losing a family member and in some ways that’s exactly what she was for the nation, and many in the Commonwealth too.
To the extent that any one person can reflect the nature of the British people, and our sense of self as a nation, she did. She was a symbol of our better instincts, and we shall miss her greatly.
I attended a beautiful service by Rev. Peter O’Connell at St Nicholas Church in Godstone, whose sermon was a wonderful tribute to Her late Majesty, and I was also moved to lay some flowers and tie a ribbon to the memorial tree at St Luke’s in Whyteleafe.
This month, the government’s new Energy Price Guarantee will come into effect for an initial two-year period. This means there will be a cap on both the unit price and standing charge that households, businesses and organisations have to pay for their energy. The average household will pay no more than £2,100 this year, because the £400 Energy Bill Support Scheme for every household still applies.
There will also be a new discretionary fund for families in park homes, using heating oil or liquid petroleum gas (LPG), which I have been lobbying for due to the many people who rely on heating oil or LPG in our rural communities.
Crucially, the price guarantee means that you will still pay less if you use less energy. As I mentioned in my speech in the House, I believe it is important that households manage their usage carefully this winter and that we focus on energy efficiency and supply as longer-term fixes. Anyone who is locked into a fixed-price contract will be able to leave and switch to new government-subsidised tariffs with no extra costs.
Plan for Growth
Alongside this, the Chancellor announced a Plan for Growth which cuts the basic rate of income tax to 19p, cuts National Insurance contributions by 1.25%, keeps corporation tax at 19%, cuts stamp duty and includes lots of measures to encourage business investment and boost economic growth.
The health secretary also came forward with Our Plan for Patients, kicking off a new drive to make sure everyone can get a GP appointment when they need one – something I know has been worrying many of you. Funding rules will be changed to recruit extra support staff and allow GPs to focus on treating patients, and pharmacies will be allowed to supply certain medicines without a GP prescription. Together, these changes could free up to three million appointments each year. Phone systems will also be modernised to make it easier for you to get an appointment.
If you have any questions about how these changes will work for you, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
September was my annual Greentember, and while I postponed most of my visits out of respect for the Queen, I was still able to host my green surgery at the start of the month. During the surgery, I heard directly from residents about the environmental issues that matter most to them. We covered issues ranging from sewage and insulation to biodiversity and solar panels in an open and honest discussion.
I was also delighted to spend time with residents at the Limpsfield Chart Fair and with our resident farmers, farmhands and agricultural businesses, whom I have huge respect for, at the Edenbridge & Oxted Agricultural Show.
At both events I was struck by how well they had been organised and what a wide range of people they had brought together to enjoy a day in the sun. Thank you to Diana Davy, Limpsfield Parish Council, the Edenbridge & Oxted trustees and all the wonderful sponsors and volunteers who made both events such roaring successes.
I have also been working with The Westway, our beloved community centre in Caterham on the Hill, to find solutions to their financial troubles. They are true local superheroes, offering all kinds of services from IT lessons and bereavement support groups to meals-on-wheels and the Men in Sheds community workshop.
The government’s energy package will help somewhat, and I’ve been talking to our local councils and NHS to see where they can do more. But the reality is that they still need more money to carry on doing what they do so well. I would encourage you to join the new ‘Friends of the Westway Centre’ Facebook page, where you can find a link to donate to their GoFundMe fundraiser. I know the volunteers would really appreciate it.
Finally, at the end of September I was honoured to be asked to serve as a minister at the Department for Work and Pensions. I look forward to working with the team there as we face the challenges ahead in the coming months.
I will, of course, continue to work on behalf of all my constituents in East Surrey on casework and my key local issues. I’ll continue to push for better service from our train operators, support local community groups through the Friendship Project and make sure government is aware of how policy changes affect you on the ground.