Tomorrow's referendum is not just an issue for the people of Scotland. The consequences of ending our three hundred year-old union will be felt deeply all across Britain, whether you live in east Scotland or East Surrey.
Families would find themselves divided by a new border, businesses would face new barriers to trade, and as a smaller country with a weaker economy, the rest of the UK would be far less influential in Europe and the wider world.
I passionately believe that the best future for all of us, whether we live north or a long way south of the border, is for the United Kingdom to stay together. As we approach the final hours of the campaign, I would encourage everyone to get in touch with family and friends in Scotland, to let them know why the United Kingdom matters and why it is in all our interests for Scotland to stay with us.
Click here to read my interview with the Independent, covering my role and priorities as Early Years & Childcare Minister.
The quality of rail services in East Surrey has been a key concern over recent months (see here and here). Last week, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chancellor of the Exchequer calling for the Government to do more to help commuters with the cost of rail fares and, specifically, for January's scheduled fare increases to be scrapped. I also made the case for greater investment in the local rail network and the electrification of the Uckfield line to improve capacity.
The fact is that for many people in East Surrey who commute into central London, there is no alternative to using rail services. The planned above-inflation increase in rail fares would have seen the price of an annual season ticket into London with a travelcard rise to £2,368 from Caterham, £3,035 from Oxted and £3,991 from Horley. This would have put a further strain on families, especially for those in which both parents commute.
I am delighted that the Government has since responded, announcing that rail fares in England will be frozen in real terms for 2014-15, a repeat of the offer made to commuters last year. This is a welcome move for anyone who relies upon the rail network to get to work, and particularly for families where both parents commute by train.
In my letter to the Transport Secretary, I also called for the electrification of the Uckfield line, which would help to reduce pressure at peak times and be a major step towards achieving the faster, more efficient service that our area needs. Over the coming months I will also be discussing with Govia (parent company of Southern Rail and winner of the TSGN franchise) the case for implementing flexible ticketing measures in East Surrey, such as reduced-price season tickets for those commuting into London for only part of a week.
Evidence suggests that children from less advantaged backgrounds currently start primary school up to 19 months behind their peers. In 21st century Britain this is unacceptable. That is why I am delighted to announce the extension this week of 15 hours of free early education to the 40 per cent of most disadvantaged two year olds, to help them fulfil their potential in life.
Already 116,000 two-year olds benefit from this free childcare, and from this week more than 260,000 children will be eligible, including 2,900 in Surrey. This is an important step that will help ensure that, whatever their background, the next generation will receive the best possible start in life.
On Monday 4th August I took part in a discussion on BBC Radio 4's consumer programme, You and Yours, on the problem of bank fraud and specifically vishing, a relatively new type of telephone scam in which victims are deceived into transferring funds to fraudsters posing as representatives of their bank.
You can listen to the report here (starts at 35:15).
I welcome the Government's announcement that an extra £28.4 million will be invested in Surrey schools, part of an additional £390m being allocated in 2015/16 to make funding for schools fairer.
The new funding represents an increase in the total allocated per pupil in Surrey from £4,096 in 2014/15 to £4,308 in 2015/16, a rise of £212. This is an important step forward in providing a fairer balance of funding for schools in local areas across the country, and means that for the first time in a decade, funding will be allocated to local schools on the basis of the actual characteristics of their pupils and schools rather than historic levels of spending.
I am delighted to have been appointed a Minister at the Department for Education (early years, early intervention and childcare) and Cabinet Office (constitutional affairs).
Alongside my constituency responsibilities I am looking forward to taking on these new roles.
Last weekend, the Mail on Sunday carried a report on an East Surrey couple defrauded of their life savings (£42,300) through a new type of financial scam known as vishing.
Vishing (Voice phishing) is a type of telephone scam in which victims are deceived into transferring funds to fraudsters posing as representatives of their bank. It exploits a loophole in the telephone system that allows the line to be kept open up to two minutes after the victim believes the call has ended.
Whilst I am delighted that in this instance we were able to recover the money, it is clear that the banks need to do more to protect customers against this type of crime. I have raised the matter with the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee who are considering ways to take this forward, and I have written to the British Bankers Association calling for them to ensure their members:
This is a sophisticated type of financial fraud, and anyone could be the next target. I would encourage everyone to be vigilant to these scams and pass on this information to others who may not be aware of them.
You can read the Mail on Sunday article here:
On Friday (20th June) I visited Windmill Manor (Hurst Green) and Amherst (Horley) care homes, in support of National Care Home Open Day.
First held in 2013, this national event involved thousands of UK care homes opening their doors to the public to bring residents and their local communities closer together and change perceptions of care homes for good.
Having opened Windmill Manor in 2010, I was delighted to return to see the progress made over the last four years. The care home is a 'Memory Lane' community, providing a range of cutting-edge innovations to make life easier for residents affected by dementia. Amherst care home in Horley, which was given its name by pupils from nearby Yattendon School, also offers specialist care to dementia sufferers.
Dementia remains one of the greatest healthcare challenges facing Britain today, affecting 15,000 people in Surrey alone. It is vital that we increase our understanding of the condition, so it was hugely encouraging to see the pioneering work being done here in East Surrey. I was thoroughly impressed by the efforts of the staff at both homes in providing a fantastic level of care to their residents.
Photo 1: Sam with Windmill Manor Deputy Manager Izabela Klaczkiewicz and General Manager Clare Gibson
Photo 2: Sam with Amherst Care Home Manager, Arthur Tanare and Peter Curtis, CEO of Gracewell Healthcare
Impressed by the work Network Rail have put into the options for a footbridge at Lingfield station. Heading in the right direction at last.
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