October has been a very busy month for me as I’ve been getting stuck into my new role as Minister for Disabled People at the Department for Work and Pensions.
I’m over the moon to have such a fantastic brief where I can work hard to improve the lives of disabled people right here in East Surrey and across the country. I am taking over the brief from Chloe Smith MP – who is now serving as the DWP Secretary of State – so I know supporting disabled people will continue to be at the heart of everything we do as a Department.
Many of you have been contacting me about nature, wildlife and the environment recently, so I want to update you on where we stand.
I have spoken to Ministers about the new Investment Zones, which are highly localised low-tax, low-regulation areas to encourage economic growth. They have confirmed to me that no local area will have an Investment Zone imposed upon them, and they will only be created in agreement with the local council.
Furthermore, the measures in the landmark Environment Act we passed last year still stand, including measures to improve air quality, biodiversity, water, waste reduction and resource efficiency. The Environmental Land Management Schemes are also here to stay, which will help support farmers in preserving and enhancing the environment.
I discussed these issues and more with Sarah Jane Chimbwandira, Chief Executive of the Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT). Sarah Jane and I discussed how the SWT has supported projects to boost biodiversity, and deliver investment to natural assets in East Surrey through the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund. I am grateful to SWT for their expert briefing, as ever, and will feed their concerns into my conversations with Ministers.
I know that fracking is also on many of your minds. I have spoken to Ministers several times about fracking over the past few months, and I have been assured that it will only take place where there is local consent for it. We are awaiting details on exactly how that local support will be measured, but I have received lots of emails from residents and I take their concerns very seriously. If you would like to feed into my conversations with Ministers on this issue, please contact me using the details below.
As the nights are drawing in and the evenings are getting chillier, I wanted to let you know about a brilliant scheme from Action Surrey that could give you up to £25,000 towards improving your home’s energy efficiency.
Whether you rent or own, if you are on a low income or a means-tested benefit you could receive a grant to fund the installation of energy improvements like cavity wall insulation, loft insulation or solar panels. All the details can be found at www.actionsurrey.org.
I met once again with GTR to raise the concerns of commuting constituents who are unhappy with the low number of trains, particularly at peak hours. Some constituents have raised issues with particular services, and I asked GTR to look at these cases to see if there is anything more they can do. I know that services continue to be overcrowded and that services often don’t run early or late enough to meet everyone’s needs, and I will continue to raise these concerns with GTR.
I also spoke with Sumona Chatterjee from the Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System, which is the NHS organisation that commissions health and care services locally. We discussed what the ICS are doing to get local GP appointments and NHS dental services back up to speed, and talked through the ‘Our Plan for Patients’ recently announced by the Health and Social Care Secretary.
Our Plan for Patients is the Government’s new strategy to ease pressures on GP services. 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, and phone systems will also be modernised to make it easier for you to get an appointment.
If you have questions about any of issues raised above, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.