Letter from Claire Coutinho – January 2023

I hope you all enjoyed a wonderfully festive Christmas and I would like to wish each and every one of you a very happy New Year.

A highlight of my festivities this year was tuning in to BBC Radio Surrey on Christmas Eve to listen to the heavenly carol service that was recorded at St Nicholas Church in Godstone earlier in the month. The choir sang beautifully and I was so proud that the BBC decided to shine a light on some of the history of the church at the start of the programme. It should still be available on BBC Sounds, so do check it out if you can.

Just before Christmas I held the latest catch-up meeting with the local groups who are part of my Friendship Project. We heard how they have all been getting on since the project launched back in July, and I updated them on how the fundraising is going. I was thrilled to share that we have already been able to raise over £5,000 to support their work thanks to some extraordinarily generous donations.

This year, through the Tandridge Community Fund, grants of between £100 and £500 will be allocated from the fund to help groups put on events and run activity days – all with the goal of tackling loneliness by creating friendships.

We also heard from Anita Donnelly and Dave Elliott from the East Surrey Rural Transport Partnership, who shared how their services can help to connect residents in rural areas who struggle to get around.

They said that their biggest issue is that people tend to think that they are not old enough or are not in great enough need to be eligible to use the service. If you know someone that might benefit from their services, please ask them to check their website at eastsurreyrtp.org.uk or give them a call on 01883 701270.

I am also thrilled to share that de Stafford School in Caterham has been selected for the next wave of the government’s School Rebuilding Programme. Good quality environments are so important for the quality of our children’s learning, so our Programme will be rebuilding or refurbishing 500 schools over the next decade. de Stafford will be using the funding to build a brand new, state-of-the-art science block and I cannot wait to visit once spades are in the ground.

Right at the start of January I was at the prime minister’s New Year speech where he set out his priorities for the year ahead. After a really difficult year, for 2023 the PM has promised to halve inflation, grow the economy and get the national debt falling, while taking strong action to cut NHS waiting lists and stop small boats, all of which I know have been worrying residents locally.

I was particularly proud to hear him speak about the importance of family. Families are at the heart of what makes us happy and well. No matter what form they take, it’s the common bond of love which shapes our lives, and as families minister I’ll be working hard this year to strengthen those bonds.

I’m going to be publishing our full response to the SEND and alternative provision Green Paper, as well as our response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care – two areas which have enormous potential to improve the early lives of some of our most vulnerable children.

One of my favourite visits this month was to Limpsfield Grange School in Oxted. They are the UK’s only school solely for autistic girls – and it shows! They provide such a wonderful approach to teaching that is specifically tailored to the needs of girls with autism.

We discussed what more can be done to support their work locally, and Sarah, the headteacher, left me with lots of food for thought about how their success can be replicated in schools across the country.

Finally, I know that many of you have been frustrated by the mayor of London’s decision to extend the ULEZ to include all of Outer London – including Biggin Hill, Coulsdon and Kenley.

The mayor has announced the expansion with just nine months’ notice, during a time of high inflation where buying a new car is simply unthinkable for so many. I have heard from businesses, families and self-employed tradespeople for whom this charge will be devastating.

I signed an open letter with 28 of my colleagues opposing the mayor’s decision, and I’m organising my own letter to the mayor himself, alongside our local Tandridge District councillors.

Claire Coutinho

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