WELCOME TO MY WEEKLY UPDATE NO.253
Four weeks until the Budget and it should be heads down at the Treasury…but it’s impossible to ignore Labour’s big u-turn on their £28 bn spending splurge which has dominated the debate at Westminster. Having pointed out for over a year the madness of a policy that would ramp up inflation and interest rates, I am left rather surprised it took them so long. Locally as well as lots of door-knocking in Godalming and Tongham last week we had the fantastic news that after years of fundraising, work finally started on the new Royal Surrey Cancer Centre. Today we start experimenting with a few more pictures in the newsletter starting with a rather good lunch on Saturday to celebrate the good news in the Grantley Arms in Wonersh!
WHAT'S GOING ON IN WESTMINSTER
HIS MAJESTY THE KING Like everyone's, my family has been directly touched by cancer recently so we have a very personal reason to be thinking about His Majesty the King this week. I don't think the Royal Family has ever been open in this way before but doing so will bring comfort to many. We all pray it has been caught early enough for him to continue his remarkable life of service to our country. Coincidentally this week work also started on the Royal Surrey's new Cancer Centre (see below).
DENTISTS Dentistry is an essential part of the NHS. Contrary to some of the negative stories, the NHS actually did a million more dental treatments last year than the year before - but we need to do even more so this week’s £200m NHS Dental Recovery Plan will mean an extra 2.5 million appointments over the next year. There will also be dental teams at schools and nurseries to make sure oral hygiene becomes part of a child’s early routine. As any parent knows it is easy enough to get children to stick a toothbrush into their mouth to clean them properly…hopefully this week’s plan will make a big difference.
COST OF LIVING PAYMENT From this week, 8 million families will receive their third Cost of Living Payment. That brings the total payments to £900 of additional support for the most needy households (although combined with support for energy bills the average support for all families is nearly £4k - or £100 bn in Treasury terms). Why do we do this? Because otherwise the poorest households would have struggled to heat their homes in the energy crisis. But (I know I would say this) it was only possible because we took difficult decisions that reduced the deficit by 80% in the run up to the pandemic.
APPRENTICESHIPS This week is National Apprenticeship week so today I visited a remarkable British semiconductor company called Pragmatic Manufacturing to see their young tech apprentices. Our Education Secretary Gillian Keegan was an apprentice herself and wants to make sure that every school leaver who wants an apprenticeship going forward can get one - and since 2010 that is what 5.7 million people have done, meaning we are finally giving respect to non-degree school leaver technical skills that countries like Germany have done for years. When I was Health Secretary I was proud to launch nursing apprenticeships and this week we have announced a new teaching apprenticeship. See below for more on last week’s visit to Milford by Schools Minister Damian Hinds who talked to us about what we have learned from countries like Singapore meaning reading standards in England are now the highest in Western Europe.
LABOUR SCRAPS THEIR £28 BN PLANS Given that Keir Starmer was saying as recently as Tuesday that spending an extra £28 billion per year was “desperately needed,” we had quite the u-turn this week when they said they would scrap the plans. I try to avoid being party political in these newsletters so forgive me for quoting the BBC’s Chris Mason who described this policy as a complete ‘muddle’ - given that Keir Starmer has now had four years as Labour leader to make his mind up on economic policy. Labour’s strategy seems to be to copy Conservative economic policy but to be buffeted around for so long on something they described as ‘the vehicle through which they would turn Britain’s economy around’ does not bode well if they get into power. This week official analysis also showed that a key plank of their policy on warm homes will cost double what they claim as you will see here. Ok – politics over!
Click here to see me answering a question from Harriet Baldwin MP: "What level of tax would an additional £28bn of spending impose on households?"
WHAT’S GOING ON LOCALLY
CANCER CAMPAIGN Following World Cancer Day on Sunday, what better way to mark it than the start of work this week on the Royal Surrey’s new Cancer and Surgical Innovation Centre - bringing state-of-the-art facilities to this amazing hospital. The £41.5m development, which it is expected will be completed at the end of 2025, will house six new operating theatres and help to build on Royal Surrey’s world-class services in robotic and non-robotic surgery. The new centre will enable an additional 7,000 patients to receive surgery every year, helping Royal Surrey respond to increasing demand for cancer surgery and help to bring down waiting lists for all elective (planned) surgical procedures. To find out more about my fundraising campaign and to make a donation (we are still raising money for the equipment it will need), please visit: https://www.royalsurreycharity.org.uk/appeal/surgerycancerappeal
THAMES WATER Thames Water told me this week that over £1.7 million has been paid out in compensation for our local water nightmare - but my team in Hindhead is still dealing with many people who have not yet got anything. As you know, another public meeting is lined up for early April with the new TW CEO so a chance to raise this then too.
BRAMLEY COMMUNITY MEETING A final reminder to email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to join my Bramley community meeting with ASDA and EPS Environmental Consultants about the fuel leak which is still causing a horrid smell and pollution in the stream. It will be held on 13th February 6pm-7pm.
RIVER WEY After all the government pressure on water companies to raise their game, it was really disappointing to see that the River Wey remains one of the worst in the country for phosphate pollution. As you know, removing sewage from the River Wey is one of my top priorities for the Green Spaces campaign and I have taken Thames Water and Environment Agency executives down to see the issue on numerous occasions. I secured a commitment from Thames and Southern Water to invest £423 million by the end of 2026 so hopefully we will start to see the effects of this investment soon. Reminder: in 2010 only 7% of sewage discharges points were measured and now it is 100% - with a new legal requirement on water companies to spend £56 bn cleaning up our rivers. What gets measured gets done.
CONSTITUENCY CALLS The first person I spoke to this week was the widower of the former manager of the post office in Haslemere who was directly affected by the Horizon scandal. She was accused of stealing money and when she denied it told that her staff were stealing. In the end the issue was resolved but not before massive personal distress was caused. I am going to pass on his story to the minister responsible Kevin Hollinrake as well as to the independent inquiry.
I then spoke to the parents of a girl with special needs who have been having enormous problems getting the support they need. Their daughter does finally have an EHCP after they had to pay for a lawyer and to collect all the evidence. They took their case to the Ombudsman who found in their favour - but why did it take so much effort? I will raise the issue with the leader of Surrey County Council. I also spoke to a lady in Farnham about a planning issue where the goalposts are being moved only two years after she moved into a new development. She has sensibly been in touch with Cllr Carole Cockburn about the issue. Finally I gave some advice to a Haslemere student who is studying politics at Loughborough.
SCHOOLS MINISTER VISIT Great news for Godalming and Ash as Schools Minister Damian Hinds came to the constituency. In this video he spoke about how we have seen massive improvements in state schools since 2010 – English children are the 4th best readers in the world. In 2009, we were 25th, 27th, and 16th in the OECD for reading, maths, and science – now we are 13th, 11th, and 13th respectively. We are also one of the top ten ‘highly equitable’ countries – which means that a child’s background in England has one of the smallest effects on their educational outcomes compared to other countries. That is a direct consequence of being prepared to take on the teaching unions with tough school inspections (something sadly apparent from the steep decline in the relative positions for Wales and Scotland which did not do this).
CLOCKHOUSE VISIT The Clockhouse is a Milford institution which I have been visiting for over 20 years - and under the management of Age UK Surrey it is getting better and better. Try out the new cafe (open to all) with its delicious coffee and cakes!
FARNHAM REEL The thorniest issue in Farnham for years has been the Gostrey/East Street development...but now it is nearly complete it is clear it is going to be fabulous. Check out the Reel Cinema which I opened on Friday– Farnham's first cinema since 1985 – with its super comfortable seats.
CRANLEIGH HIGH STREET - Over 1,000 people have objected via a petition about LibDem Cllr Liz Townsend’s controversial proposals for the High Street. Many Cranleigh residents have now responded to my "Future of Cranleigh" survey; so far 49% of you support some pedestrianisation but 43% of you are against any further pedestrianisation. Let me know what you think by filling out and returning my survey.
ASH YOUTH CLUB Watch this great video with an update from John Tonks who is on the Ash Youth Management Committee… They are asking for opinions on what you want to see in the club. You can give your thoughts by clicking on this link.
SURREY ROAD SAFETY The diligent Cllr Matt Furniss of Surrey County Council is seeking views on a new road safety plan which aims to eliminate road collisions or deaths by 2050. Do take part in their consultation here.
JOIN ME Want to get more involved locally? Email me at email@example.com to join my growing team supporting our work in our community. We had two brilliant canvassing sessions last weekend - knocking on no fewer than 309 doors!
AND FINALLY… This mischievous monkey had a five-day trip exploring the Scottish Highlands last week but, just like many of us during a Sunday roast, could not resist the temptation of a Yorkshire pudding!