Letter from Claire Coutinho – November 2023

You may remember last month I shared the news that Royal Surrey and East Surrey Hospitals were to receive an extra £8.8 million to expand winter capacity. Well, the good news doesn’t stop there, as I am thrilled to share that Master Park in Oxted is set to receive a £250,000 grant from the government’s Community Ownership Fund – helping to build a new pavilion to bring in revenue and maintain the park in the long-term.

In my previous role as children’s minister I spent a lot of time talking to new parents, as I was working to deliver the largest ever expansion of childcare, worth up to £6,500 for the average family. Some parents told me it can be confusing to find out exactly how many free hours of childcare you are entitled to, so the government has just launched a personalised online eligibility checker. Simply go to childcarechoices.gov.uk, enter your details, and get a clear breakdown of when you will be entitled to the new support.

Commuters can now breathe a sigh of relief, as the Day Travelcard has been saved after government intervention. Back in April, I wrote that the mayor of London and TfL were running a consultation to scrap the Day Travelcard for those travelling into London. Keeping the Day Travelcard will save East Surrey commuters hundreds of pounds in travel costs and make it easier for residents to enjoy London’s brilliant restaurants, shops, and culture. Thank you to everyone in East Surrey who took part in the consultation and made sure our voices were heard.

I’m sure it’s no secret that strengthening bonds within the communities of East Surrey is one of my biggest priorities as your MP. That’s been the driving force behind my Friendship Project, for which I’ve already raised nearly £9,000 to distribute to local volunteers who work to reduce loneliness.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been spending time with community groups across the constituency, finding out what they’ve been up to and listening to what matters to them. At Oxted Community Hall, I spoke to parents at their craft-tastic parent and baby morning, followed by a coffee morning with older residents from the St Mary’s Church community, and I must give a shout-out to local superstar Penny Kirk. Aside from running the baby group on Friday mornings, she has organised for an astonishing 27 lorries (and over 40,000 nappies!) to be sent to Ukraine families since the outbreak of the war, and she collects Christmas presents each year for children living in safe houses. She is an inspiration for all of us.

I also joined the Caterham, Oxted, and Godstone Lions for their charter anniversary celebrations. These incredible volunteers have been serving our community for 45 years – raising money for wonderful causes including St Catherine’s Hospice, Caterham Food Bank, and the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance. Their Santa Sleigh has become a staple of our Christmas calendar and it will be making an appearance again this year – please support them if you can.

It was a joy to join Hindu families at Herons Bonsai in Lingfield, to celebrate the Durga Puja festival. One father recounted a conversation he’d had with his young son when he said I would be joining them. “Is she bringing Rishi?” ‘No, just her.’ Cue considerable disappointment. When asked why he wanted to meet Rishi, the son replied “because when I grow up I want to be prime minister like Rishi”. As the PM has said, it’s a sign of how welcoming this country is that the fact he’s Hindu or of Indian heritage is simply not a big deal to most people. But this was a touching reminder that it is a big deal to some.

Finally, in my role as energy secretary, I’ve been spreading the news that we have now increased the cash grant of our Boiler Upgrade Scheme by 50%, to £7,500. This makes our scheme one of the most generous in Europe and means that some heat pumps will start below the average price of gas boilers. While out and about in Smallfield, I met Dan, who told me that the uplift means he’ll now be able to make the switch to a heat pump. That’s exactly our ambition: no families should have to choose between cutting costs and cutting emissions. To see if you’re eligible, just search for ‘Boiler Upgrade Scheme’.

Claire’s other articles can be found here.

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