Letter from Claire Coutinho – October 2023

It is the honour of a lifetime to be appointed to serve in the cabinet as secretary of state for energy security and net zero.

My job will be to ensure our energy supply is secure and protected from the whim of hostile tyrants like Vladimir Putin, alongside leading our transition to clean energy and working with our international partners to tackle climate change.

As always, I’m committed to making sure I’m in touch with what matters to you here in East Surrey, and my constituency meetings, surgeries and visits will go ahead as usual. One issue that continues to be raised is that of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Parents tell me they are still struggling to get updates on their children’s education, health and care plans (EHCPs), and I was able to raise a number of these cases at a meeting with Clare Curran from Surrey County Council last week. When I was a minister at the Department for Education I took forward reforms to fix some of the most common problems families face, but there are a number of procedural changes Surrey can make to smooth things over for families in the short term. I am glad Clare agreed to implement some of these changes.

After a busy few weeks in my new role, it was a delight to decompress on a walk through Limpsfield Common, catching up with Stephanie Fudge and Mark Dawson from the National Trust. They talked me through the work of their staff and volunteers – including the Friends of Limpsfield Common – to restore our ancient woodlands, protect nature, and make the common more accessible for those with limited mobility.

Surrey is the most wooded county in England, with about a quarter classed as ancient woodland. Spending time in the harmony of the natural world can do wonders for our mental health and wellbeing, and the National Trust makse sure these benefits are protected for generations to come. I’m going to be putting members of my Friendship Project in touch with the National Trust to see how we can encourage people to enjoy nature together.

We have had some fantastic news about extra funding to boost capacity at East Surrey Hospital and extra money to pay for Surrey County Council’s home adaptations programme.

Royal Surrey and East Surrey Hospitals will be receiving £8.8m to expand capacity this winter. At East Surrey, this will build two new modular wards with space for 64 beds, while at Royal Surrey, there will be four new cubicles in A&E, eight new same-day emergency care assessment spaces and eight new spaces in the acute medical unit. The prime minister also announced an extra £200m of funding for extra ambulances, beds, and virtual wards, alongside an extra £40m to improve social care capacity, strengthen admissions avoidance services and boost discharge.

Surrey is also set to receive an extra £886,000 from the government for home adaptations such as wheelchair ramps, hoists, and stairlifts, helping elderly and disabled residents live safely and independently in their own homes. Since 2010, there have been almost half a million home adaptions across the country through the Disabled Facilities Grant, backed by £4.8b of funding. Making sure homes are properly adapted means we can discharge patients from hospital more quickly, freeing up beds in hospitals and cutting NHS waiting times. Together, these changes will help support the NHS during its busiest period. If you or someone you know might benefit from a Disabled Facilities Grant, you can call Tandridge District Council on 01883 722000.

September also saw the launch of our new, flexible, on-demand bus service, which means you can now book buses that go anywhere in Tandridge without following a fixed route. The buses also serve two stops in Redhill, on the High Street and Queensway. You can book a journey using the Surrey Connect app or by calling 01883 701278. Those with free bus passes can use this service free too.

Claire can be contacted via her website.

Find her previous articles here.

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