Monthly Archives: July 2011

Newtonrigg

private finance initiative

Rory has welcomed tough action announced by the Government to save more than £1.5 billion from the Private Finance Initiative. Importantly all of the money saved will go to PFI schemes, including the Penrith and Patterdale fire stations in the constituency.

In a written Ministerial Statement delivered to Parliament, Treasury Minister Lord Sassoon laid out Government plans to save more than £1.5 billion on existing PFI deals, and to plough much of that money straight back into frontline public services.

The announcement comes after a series of forensic investigations by Treasury experts into PFI contracts including at the Queens Hospital in Romford. Rory has been part of the PFI Rebate campaign of more than 80 MPs, from all three major parties, who have been calling for savings on the PFI.

Speaking after the announcement he said: “I am delighted by this news.  Our target of £1 billion has been significantly exceeded.  The Government has listened and taken our campaign very seriously.  This announcement will mean real savings right here in Penrith and the Border and a real improvement in our local public services. The actions announced by the Government are deliberately cautious; they are a long-term solution to a long-term problem.  This kind of detailed forensic work may not be glamorous, but it is vital if we are to clear up the economic mess left by the last Labour Government.”

NFU FRINGE EVENT - CONSERVATIVE PARTY CONFERENCE NATIONAL FARMERS UNION

oxfam’s bookfest in penrith

 

Rory’s short story, the Wrestler, has been published in a comilation travel book called Oxtravels. Rory signed copies at the Penrith Oxfam Store.

Watch a video of the day here or read the blog here.

You can also read some local media coverage here.

sheep

keep sheep on the fells

 

Penrith and the Border – the constituency in England with the largest percentage of uplands land – is pressing the governments to increase limits on sheep numbers on the fells.

Rory believes that recent environmental measures – designed to protect hillsides from damage by sheep – have become “excessive” and is campaigning to relax the restrictions. He has challenged DEFRA minister Jim Paice in a Westminster Hall debate, and has pursued the issue in recent meetings of the Sheep association and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hill Farming. He has now sent a formal request to the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs.

Rory said: “The reductions in stocking levels are now damaging our landscape. Fells are being taken over by inedible grass and bracken. As the flock numbers fall, employment for farmers and shepherds and everyone in the related industries from auction marts onwards fall. When there is no rural employment village schools, pubs and shops will fall away too. We must tackle this before it goes any further. I agree that over-stocking is damaging – but under-stocking is now equally damaging. The dial must be turned back. Farmers in Penrith and the Border understand and respect the fact that farming and environmental protection must co-exist, but not at the expense of our agricultural heritage and the output that our land is capable of sustaining. We desperately need to review our schemes, our stocking levels, our planning laws, and our working relationships with agencies and Government. We need to trust in the farmers who know our land best.“

Will Cockbain, Uplands Spokesman for the NFU said: “Hill farming is about delivering both for the market place and the environment, we have already seen huge reductions in sheep numbers in the uplands along with significant environmental improvement, but farmers are increasingly concerned at talk of further dramatic reductions. Many rural jobs – from farmers to shepherds to vets, auction marts, abattoirs and hauliers – rely on a critical mass of animals being present in uplands areas as do lowland livestock farmers who are customers for female breeding sheep bred in the uplands.”

Robert Craig, Cumbria’s NFU Chairman, said: “I welcome the ongoing support and commitment from Rory Stewart. Hill farming and sheep production in the uplands is at the heart of the rural economy in Cumbria. If the upland farmers in the county are to be asked to further reduce the sheep numbers on the fells we must first fully understand the impact both on the economy and the social fabric of the uplands. It’s clear from income levels published that the current policy in the uplands isn’t working. I would urge that we need to see more direct dialogue between Lake District National Park, our local politicians and farmers, with the aim of generating proposals that would lead the upland in a more sustainable direction for the future for everyone.”

The meeting followed an event last week at which Rory Stewart hosted a visit of the National Sheep Association (NSA) to Parliament where the Association launched a paper called “The Complimentary Role of Sheep within Less Favoured Areas”.

Rory repeated his commitment to representing the views of sheep farmers in Westminster. Fellow Cumbrian and NSA regional representative John Geldard commented: “Things are changing. In 2007 we had a Secretary of State who said the environment more important than food production. This Government says the reverse. This is the first time we’ve been listened to. This is the first time our concerns have been taken seriously.”

The focus on sheep farming has not been limited to Westminster alone. A meeting was held in Orton last week, the culmination of discussions between Natural England, the Forestry Commission and the Environment Agency with local farmers on how to involve the agriculture industry in Big Society initiatives, simplify conversations with DEFRA and ‘barrier bust’ challenging legislative issues. The project’s findings have been a wake-up call to the local government agencies whose challenging brief involves supporting the agriculture sector, whilst protecting the natural environment. Key actions are to work on bringing younger people into farming, relaxing planning laws to ensure that younger farmers are able to settle in rural areas, and lever taxes to create more opportunities for farmers. Farmers have also called for more flexibility in Natural England schemes, calling for a reduction in the number of years of Entry Level Schemes, and looking at more frequent reviewing of schemes in order to enhance land output and food production.

 

sheep

tb

A farm that has lost its herd to bovine TB has been hit by an earthquake. The shocked family in the empty yard will remember all their cows –  often a lifetime’s work of genetics and breeding that they have nurtured, tended and milked from well before dawn, every day of the year – now slaughtered in one brutal stroke: healthy and unhealthy alike. The government compensation is never enough, particularly with pedigree cows, to allow the herd to be replaced. TB is spreading, the number of incidents is increasing: a quarter of farms in the South-West have been placed under quarantine and 25,000 cattle were killed in Britain last year. Now Cumbria, which has been almost free of TB, is under threat.

We had one incident near Penrith two weeks ago, and another two months ago. On each occasion, we may just have caught it in time. But we are perhaps the greatest milk field in the country – with 200,000 cows in Penrith and the Border alone. If TB ever becomes entrenched in our wildlife – badgers or deer – it will be almost impossible to eradicate. I have always believed that there are too many bureaucratic restrictions on farmers (my father complains his cows need more passporting, tagging and inspection than his children) and that the best way of stopping the spread of TB is to cull TB-infected badgers. But when a farmer asks how to prevent TB in Cumbria, the answer can’t just be “less restrictions and less badgers”. Our latest TB outbreak did not come from badgers (there was no evidence that we then had TB in our badgers) but from TB-infected cows, meeting over fences. And these cows had almost certainly come to Cumbria from TB-infected areas of the South-West.

There are a number of ways in which this could happen. First, the pre-movement test for cows from an infected area is only seventy per cent accurate. Second, dealers can leave the cows for a short-time in a non-infected parish and then sell them in the auction mart, as though they had always been in a clean area. And it is still possible, it seems, for a farmer to link a Cumbrian field to a field in Gloucestershire, as a single holding, and thus get round the necessity for pre-movement testing at all.

We need to stop all of this. We must prevent linking of holdings more than thirty miles apart, and improve TB tests pre-movement. Blood-testing seems to be more reliable than skin tests. Auction marts know from the cow’s passport where it has been all its life, but they generally only reveal the last movement. We should call on Cumbrian marts to reveal whether the cow has been in an infected area, not in the last six days, but in the last six months. Few Cumbrian farmers would buy such potentially infected stock, and dealers would no longer be able to pass off infected stock as ‘clean’. The marts might forego money in the short-term, but by protecting Cumbria from infection, they stop their trade from collapsing entirely. I am confident, therefore, that Cumbrian marts would agree to sign up to a voluntary code of conduct: and we should make this happen as soon as possible.  But we must be tougher still. In Scotland, cattle from infected areas are not only pre-movement tested, they are also kept in isolation and post-movement tested two to four months later (because cattle take a long time to develop signs of the disease). We should make this compulsory in Cumbria as well.

The Secretary of State’s recent decision to introduce limited badger culling was unpopular with many of the public, but popular with farmers: this will be unpopular with many farmers. They are already struggling under bureaucracy and red-tape: the last thing they want is even more onerous testing and moving regulations. Even today, farmers with healthy herds can be unfairly restricted because of TB four miles away at the other end of their parish. Greater restrictions would make it even more difficult to sell their cows. Some  – including Cumbrian farmers who are currently in ‘one to two year testing’ hot-spots  – could be put out of business. So could some dealers. Cumbrian upland farmers, who need to buy specialist replacement cows, would find it more difficult to do so at an affordable price. And it would be very difficult legally, practically and politically to draw a line around a county.

But the threat from endemic bovine TB is now so severe that I’m afraid the time has come to be tough. Cheshire has seen the number of cases treble in 5 years. And TB is like the plague: it is far too virulent to simply hope that self-regulation, and rough and ready testing, is going to keep it out. In the long-run the answer lies in vaccines, but for now, I cannot see any alternative to getting agreement from farmers, and pushing the Secretary of State to introduce post-movement testing in Cumbria. If we don’t, TB could soon be devastating our farms, our animals and our livelihoods.

Gaudium

british egg industry council

Rory joined more than fifty MPs and peers at an event in Parliament  hosted by the British Egg Industry Council, which convened the meeting to brief representatives of both Houses on the implementation of the forthcoming Welfare of Laying Hens Directive.

Rory has already pledged his support to his constituency’s egg farmers, who have in the past weeks expressed their concerns to him about the implementation of the new EU directive, and its impact on
egg farming in Penrith and the Border. He commented: “I am absolutely certain that British egg farmers should not be disadvantaged for obeying any law – and I empathise fully with their concerns. I will do all I can to ensure their views are represented fully. This is an important event today: any MP who represents egg farmers must be absolutely up to date on the potential impact of the Laying Hen Welfare legislation on their farms, and I am grateful for the British Egg Industry Council for arranging this.“

In his address to the meeting, Mark Williams, Chief Executive of the British Egg Industry Council highlighted the potential disaster to the UK egg industry if the law is not applied properly across Europe.
Williams pointed to the £400m that the UK industry has invested in ensuring that it meets the requirement of the Directive on time and called on the European Commission to come forward with definite proposals for dealing with eggs and egg products that continue to be produced by hens housed in conventional battery cages. Such eggs and egg products will become illegal from 1 January 2012.

BEIC estimates show that nearly one quarter of EU egg production, or around 70 million eggs a day, will become illegal when the deadline for implementation passes. And while the European Commission has
stated that the ban will be introduced on time, the BEIC believes it is clear that many producers in other member states will not meet the deadline and that strong, effective measures are required to stop the
potential trade in illegal eggs.

Williams said: “Our Government has stated that it stands ‘four square’ with those producers in this country who have made the investment…and that an effective intra-EU ban on the trade of eggs and egg products produced by hens which continue to be housed in conventional (‘battery’) cages after 1st January 2012 should be put in place, to prevent ‘illegal’ eggs and egg products entering the UK. We want to see this support turned into action and reflected by the European Commission.”

rory_NTSkidstrees

bookfest

Oxfam is celebrating its third annual Bookfest with a book-signing by Rory, at Penrith’s Oxfam shop at 23 Devonshire Street, Penrith this Saturday 16th July.

Bookfest takes place from 2nd to 17th July in hundreds of Oxfam shops and venues across the UK. The festival celebrates the central role books play in people’s lives, and the impact that donating a book or buying a book from Oxfam can have on the lives of those living in global poverty.

To round off this fantastic campaign, the Penrith shop is very excited to welcome Rory to the shop for an exclusive in-store book-signing on Saturday 16th July between 11am-12pm.

Rory said: “I was delighted to be part of OxTravels, a compendium of stories showcasing travel writing at its best. It is raising money for a wonderful cause, and one that is close to my heart. It’s also great to be supporting Oxfam’s annual Bookfest. The sale of just 3 books in an Oxfamshop could provide 10 days’ worth of basic food rations for a family in an emergency situation, and Oxfam hopes that as many people as possible will come along to their local Oxfam shop to participate in what is the UK’s biggest book festival and help raise funds for Oxfam’s life-changing work in fighting global poverty and inequality.”

Having written already about his experiences in Iraq and Afghansitan for a range of publications including the New York Times and the Guardian, Oxfam is delighted that Rory has penned a piece for OxTravels, a collection of short stories written by three dozen of the world’s most lively and well-respected travel writers who have each recalled a significant encounter from their adventures.

Tracy Mossop, manager of the Penrith shop, said: “I am really excited about the book-signing event taking place with Rory Stewart. It will be such a fantastic way to celebrate this year’s Bookfest. We receive incredible support from people in Penrith all year round, and Bookfest is a great way of thanking them for this support and of introducing new people to the shop.”

Bookfest 2010 resulted in a 9% increase in book donations to Oxfam and a £400,000 increase in book sales and Oxfam is hoping that this year will be even more successful. David McCullough, Oxfam’s Director of Trading, said: “During our three-week book Donation Drive which ran in May this year we saw a 17% increase in book donations. This means that Oxfam shops and bookshops are bursting with fantastic books in time for Bookfest. People were fantastically generous during the Donation Drive and we really hope that they will show the same level of support during Bookfest and will come along to their local Oxfam shop or bookshop to enjoy the brilliant range of events and promotions taking place during the fortnight.”

Book sales have been helping Oxfam in its fight against poverty for more than fifty years, and every book we sell makes a difference. The sale of just two books in an Oxfam shop is enough to pay for one day’s home-based care for a person living with HIV or AIDS in South Africa while the sale of three books could provide ten days’ worth of basic food rations for a family in an emergency situation.

For more information about Bookfest and to find out about Bookfest events in the local area see: www.oxfam.org.uk/bookfest.

Industry_broadband_day

broadband industry day

Following confirmation of news that Cumbria is to receive £16.8 million to go towards rural broadband initiatives, Rory chaired a unique ‘industry day’ on Friday at Plumpton’s Stonybeck Inn, bringing together the best of Cumbria’s community broadband groups with representatives of the tele-communications industry, many of whom had travelled far and wide to attend the event – another milestone in Rory’s year-long campaign for better broadband in Cumbria.

Community broadband groups from Great Asby, the Northern Fells, Leith/Lyvennet, Garsdale and Dentdale, and Grange over Sands made presentations to the assembled audience of industry representatives, made up of suppliers from companies including BT, Fujitsu, Cable and Wireless, Ericsson and Cisco. Industry representatives were then given an opportunity to engage with the groups in breakout sessions, asking detailed questions about the community solutions that each group had formulated to overcome lack of broadband access in remote areas.

Rory said: “This is a very exciting day, and is the culmination of many, many months of hard work. For the first time we are presenting some very advanced, professional community solutions to some of the very key industry players, and inviting suppliers to make commitments so that we can get spades in the ground later this year. Our fundamental challenge is to connect some of the most sparsely populated parts of Cumbria to broadband, and we have today some of the most innovative, and the most imaginative, local thinkers on the subject. I don’t doubt that we have a lot of work ahead of us, but know that we have the commitment and the expertise to pioneer some of the most exciting solutions to rural broadband issues that can be replicated across Britain.”

Rory paid tribute to both Cumbria County Council for its patience and energy, and to Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), led by Mike Kiely, for their support of Cumbria as a pilot. The event was also attended by representatives of other community groups interested in broadband initiatives, including from Alston, Patterdale, and rural Carlisle.

Community broadband activist Libby Bateman of Mallerstang said: “The industry day appeared to be very successful with a productive dialogue between local community broadband projects and potential suppliers to those projects. Many of the suppliers and community projects were playing their cards very close to their chest which I am hoping is a sign that plans are developing and community – supplier relationships are blossoming. This day was really just the beginning of the process, it is now that the real work begins and the race is on to get the first fibre network into the ground to offer future proof connectivity beyond the wildest dreams of our remote rural communities. As chairman of the Forum I would like to offer my sincere gratitude to Mike Kiely from BDUK and Rory Stewart MP who have continuously encouraged and inspired our communities to realise their ambitions of future proof connectivity in remote rural locations.“

 

Industry_broadband_day

rory_fellsiders

big versus small: charities

The small is displaced by the large, day after day: the smaller hill farm by the larger; the market store by the supermarket; the community by the district hospital. The same story has been repeated over the last fifteen years with thousands of schools and post-offices, dairy farms and pubs. And it is about to happen to our Cumbrian charities.

More people are involved in voluntary activity in Penrith and the Border than almost any other constituency in Britain. In the last few weeks, I have seen Eden Valley Hospice, Greystoke’s Sunbeams Music Trust, Wigton’s Chrysalis, Bewcastle’s Low Luckens farm, Brampton’s community trust, Carlisle’s Eden Valley Hospice,  Heathland’s Glenmore Trust, and the Appleby Heritage Centre. One consists of a husband and wife and 27 acres; another has four hundred volunteers. One receives half its funding from the government; another raises £7,000 pounds of private donations a week. One is in a purpose-built building with bright modern furniture, another in a set of railway carriages. They deal with everything from eight year olds to eighty year olds; housing to health. But each was born in Cumbria; and all still bear the mark of their origin as a tiny charity, and their founders’ desire to meet a particular Cumbrian need.

Hospice at Home was created by four people who realised that 80 per cent of the people who died in hospital would rather die at home. It has managed all the tumult of NHS reforms, all the risks of growth, and all the funding crises, to now serve hundreds of patients a year, with over ten thousand hours of care. It has staged grand fundraising events (I still haven’t lived down dancing with 150 Santas in Penrith) and it has been honoured with medals at Buckingham palace. But its stall is still at the Skelton Show, and Fiona, who was a founder fifteen years ago, still works there now. Each organisation’s overheads are low and their staff are effective and experienced. But they cannot afford permanent staff for writing grant applications, and they are rarely financially secure.

Now giant ‘third-sector organisations’ are competing against them. These big national charities have strengths (professional management, economies of scale, skills and good track records) but this is not why they consistently win contracts: they generally win because they are richer and more powerful. They have revenues of hundreds of millions of pounds a year: a hundred times the size of the largest Cumbrian charities. Some have more than a hundred people just in their fundraising and ‘development’ teams. And they know how to promote themselves: this week there were ten events organised by big national charities in Parliament, with celebrity guests, videos, and pink-iced cakes. Yesterday, I was presenting an award at a London ceremony for charities that had so many glamorous assistants, spotlights, sport-stars, and tracks of ethnic drumming, that I thought I was at an American ballgame.

But it is not the cakes which make big charities so appealing to foundations and government: it is that they feed our new obsessions with ‘professionalism’, ‘accountability’, ‘risk-assessment’, and ‘sustainability’: all of which often come down to ‘size’. Contracts are increasing in scale. Application forms demand elaborate strategies, and needs assessments. Insurance costs are rocketing (as even Crosby Ravensworth Village Fair is finding to its cost). Compliance favours the most exhaustive monitoring and documentation. The most straightforward act of neighbourliness now requires a training course.

How much easier, therefore, to give the contract to a national charity, with its financial base, sophisticated reporting systems, right qualifications and right words. But often how much worse for the ‘service-users’: because in many charities, local knowledge, leadership and flexibility are more important than a complex national template. What matters are not strategic plans but human relationships; not qualifications but compassion and understanding. If Eden Mencap – with no national support system – loses its grant to a big national provider what will that mean for my friend in Penrith? He has learning difficulties but does not receive government support. Will the national sit down with him, as Eden Mencap does almost every week, to talk, or gently to unpick the hundreds of pounds’ debt he has run up on his Argos card? Would they process him if he were not funded as part of a government contract? Would they even keep the office on the high street, so he could find them? And would they have known him for twenty years?

I am now working with Cumbria Voluntary Service to bring small local charities together with donors. The hope is to create simpler processes and more manageable contracts, which reward local knowledge and experience, rather than hyper-polished proposals. I’ve asked Whitehall for ideas on how officers can adapt the procurement regulations. But the big national charities can also help by showing more sensitivity.

Some already do. Last week, I was at the wonderful new Roman Frontier Gallery at Tullie House with the Director of the British Museum. The British Museum, like the Liverpool Tate gallery, could have set up a “BM North”. They have the money, reputation and the masterpieces to succeed and take visitors and funding away from local museums. Instead, they have chosen to lend their treasures to Tullie, and work with their curators to build on what is already there. I hope more of the great national charities will follow their example.

 

 

Hospice_at_home

hospice at home’s gillwilly estate

Rory visited Hospice at Home’s Gillwilly Estate base in Penrith last week, where he met with staff and Trustees of the renowned hospice charity that operates in Eden, Carlisle and Allerdale. Rory discussed the charity’s history, its current plans and its reactions to the potential impact of the recently published Palliative Care Funding Review.

The meeting, chaired by Trustee Trevor Hebdon, was also attended by Chairman Michael Pearson, Vice-Chairman Sue Nicholson, Trustees Richard Murray, Jaqui Filkins and Paul Bramley, Volunteer Co-ordinator Annie Binny, Charity Director Sheila Thompson and Clinical Services Manager Fiona Stobart. In a wide-ranging discussion about the charity’s fundraising and marketing initiatives, Rory also had the chance to ask questions about Hospice at Home’s operations and future business strategy.

Rory said: “I will do all I can to defend and protect this amazing organisation. Hospice at Home really is a model of efficiency and effectiveness, providing a level of care in the home that is – I believe – second to none. The charity can respond to most requests for help in a matter of minutes, and reached out to over 300 patients last year. It is rightly proud of the immense support it receives from the local community, both in terms of donations and donations in kind from both businesses and other charitable organisations. I’ll do all I can to ensure that Hospice at Home continues to thrive in what is a time of flux in our health services, and ensure it is held up as a model for the rest of the country.”

 

Hospice_at_home

 

Learning_Fields

learning fields

Rory was delighted to attend the opening day of the Learning Fields outdoor education centre at Nag’s Head Farm at Hoff, where he met with directors of the community interest company, chatted with participants and was taken on a tour of the centre’s new residential facilities and outdoor areas.

Formed in 2007 as a social enterprise with five directors from the local community, Learning Fields is an organisation offering educational and environmental opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. Two of its directors, Alex and Douglas Chalmers, were on hand to explain how Learning Fields provides an interactive facility where groups or individuals can observe and enjoy the countryside in a safe environment. The setting – in ten hectares of grassland and woodland – is considered to be the perfect location for a wide range of outdoor activities, including fencing, dry-stone walling, pond and wetland management, bushcraft, coppicing and much more.

Rory said: “It’s been inspirational to see how, from relatively modest beginnings, and a real local vision, something amazing has grown into an excellent community initiative with broad appeal across all age ranges. Outdoor education and learning is so important to our way of life here in Cumbria, and places like Learning Fields show how it can be done. Alex and Douglas and their co-directors and staff have created an excellent model that I would love to see replicated across the constituency, and I wish them every success with their new residential facilities.”

Learning_Fields