Monthly Archives: March 2015

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RORY STEWART HELPS TO WIN FUNDING FOR COMMUNITY TRANSPORT

Rory Stewart has welcomed good news in his ‎campaign to secure more funding for community transport. Rory, who strongly opposed Cumbria County Council’s cuts to bus services, has been campaigning directly with No.10 and The Department for Transport for greater support and investment in rural public transport. Thanks to the campaigning of Rory and other rural MPs, more than 300 local charities and community groups across England will receive new minibuses from the Department for Transport’s £25 million community transport minibus fund. Four of the groups successful in their bid for funding operate in Cumbria and include, the Fellrunner, Microbus, Aspatria CT and Brathay Trust. Following this first round of allocations, the Department for Transport will look to use the fund to support additional schemes this Summer, and community groups are encouraged to submit an application at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/community-transport-minibus-fund

Rory Stewart said:

“Having taken this campaign to No.10 and the Department for Transport, I am delighted to see local Cumbrian communities benefiting from the Community Transport Minibus Fund. It has inevitably been the most vulnerable members of our society who have been hardest hit by the county council’s decision to remove bus subsidies, and I have received a huge amount of correspondence from families really struggling as a result. There was nothing inevitable about the decision to cut bus subsidies, but not in a position myself to overturn the council’s decision, I have attempted to work with local communities, and central government to find any other solution possible that ensures local people are not left stranded in their own village. This fund will allow local community transport providers, like the Fellrunner, to continue providing a vital lifeline in outlying villages, so at the bare minimum, people can get in to town for shopping, hospital appointments, and the opportunity to socialise. I am trying to push forward a government-backed pilot that will see Cumbria think far more seriously about public transport, and if re-elected in May, I would love to set up a model that makes public transport truly work for local people.”

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What kind of place do we want Cumbria to be?

What kind of place do we want Cumbria to be in twenty years’ time? Or in two hundred years’ time? Our lives are still shaped by political decisions made centuries ago. We travel on railway lines, and drink from reservoirs, first laid by the Victorians. We look at scenery created by neolithic farmers and nineteenth century enclosure laws. Children are spared from going down mines, or up chimneys, women vote, everyone goes to school, not by accident but because of political battles long ago. When Willie Whitelaw first became MP for Penrith and the Border, almost half the houses in this constituency had no electricity or indoor lavatories. That was just over fifty years ago. Now 60 million British people make 100 million foreign trips a year.

Those political decisions, those investments, and that history will continue to shape Cumbria’s future. Just as our sparsely-populated, austere, working landscape will continue to shape our economy. Our scattered population, for example, is one reason why still today, 92 per cent of us work for businesses employing less than 10 people, and more than a quarter of us are self-employed. This is a strength because we are not completely dependent on a single industry exposed to economic cycles. But sparseness brings challenges – it means we have to fight harder than other places to support small schools, community hospitals and ambulances, fire engines, and pubs. And we need to invest more heavily than almost anywhere else in communications, which in our generation means train, bus, roads, super fast broadband, and mobile telephone signals, but which could mean some quite different technologies for our grandchildren.

Our two largest income earners – tourism and farming – also emerge from our landscape. The lambs that entrance us at springtime, the dignified lines of the stone-walls, and many of the children in the village schools still come from, and depend, on families in working farms below lonely fells. By some miracle we have inherited a landscape, which has been lost in most of Southern England and much of Highland Scotland – the perfect meeting of the wild and the pastoral. We must protect it from schemes which destroy farms, and from ugly and inappropriate developments that destroy our natural beauty.

This is in our economic interest. But is also our obligation to our inheritance – a landscape that we love, and which is treasured by millions far from Cumbria. Our historic landscape also still attracts tens of thousands of people who come to work or retire here. We should treasure the energy, imagination and experience they bring to neighbourhood planning, or campaigns to save our local institutions – their support for everything from the Keswick Literary Festival to community broadband. But we should also connect our local children more closely to Cumbria – whether it is through building genuinely attractive, appropriate, affordable housing (as in Crosby Ravensworth), or helping them to find fulfilling careers in agriculture (through Newton Rigg College, for example), in the outdoor industries (last week I met people from 300 outdoor businesses at a single event), or even in international export (Wigton’s Innovia exports 90 per cent of its products).

But these are just general principles. Politics shouldn’t be reduced to an abstract word, whether it is the ‘economy’ or ‘equality’ or even ‘Cumbria’. We must make our vision clearer, local and more detailed, so we are not misleading others, or deceiving ourselves. Only if we describe our future fully and convincingly can we work together to make it happen. And we cannot assume that the only things that matter are local, or that what we take for granted will always remain. Germany – perhaps the most prosperous and educated country in the world in the early twentieth century– was plunged into horror. Syria was literate, urban, prosperous, three thousand years before anyone in Cumbria could read or lived in a town, and it was at peace from the Crusades until 2011. A nuclear terrorist attack, or even a cyber-attack, on one of our cities, could shatter our civilisation overnight. We need to think not only about the broader economy, but also about Foreign Affairs and Defence – even Cumbria depends on things outside Britain.

But our genius is local. We have never been so healthy or educated. Energy, talent, common-sense and experience spills from every village. There is an election coming. So please vote – whoever you vote for. But what will make Cumbria magical for our grandchildren is not simply the landscape, or the economy, or any election, but how we continue to combine our imaginations. Democracy is not a once-in-a-five-year event but an ongoing commitment to compromise, community and effort.

It is now five years since I wrote my first Herald column. And what stays with me isn’t so much the big projects, but the 8,500 individuals, businesses and charities, who have written with questions, problems, and, above all, with ideas for the future. It is voices like these – rarely in agreement – which have, for centuries, shaped the country we love. And our future depends on making sure all these ideas continue to be clarified, brought together, and brought to life.

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Prime Minister’s Questions – Contaminated Blood

Rory Stewart: One of the most disturbing scandals has been the infection of thousands of people across the nation with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood. Today Lord Penrose publishes a report that follows nearly 25 years of campaigning by Members on both sides of this House to address the scandal. Will the Prime Minister, as the last act of his Government, ensure that there is a full apology, transparent publication and, above all, proper compensation for the families terribly affected by this scandal?

David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this, with the Penrose report being published today. I can do all of the three things he asks for. I know that many Members on all sides of this House have raised the question of infected blood, and I have spoken about how constituents have been to my surgeries. While it will be for the next Government to take account of these findings, it is right that we use this moment to recognise the pain and the suffering experienced by people as a result of this tragedy. It is difficult to imagine the feelings of unfairness that people must feel at being infected with something like hepatitis C or HIV as a result of a totally unrelated treatment within the NHS. To each and every one of those people, I would like to say sorry on behalf of the Government for something that should not have happened.

No amount of money can ever fully make up for what did happen, but it is vital that we move as soon as possible to improve the way that payments are made to those infected by this blood. I can confirm today that the Government will provide up to £25 million in 2015-16 to support any transitional arrangements to a better payments system. I commit that, if I am Prime Minister in May, we will respond to the findings of this report as a matter of priority.

Finally, I know that Lord Penrose was unable to present the findings of his report today because of illness. I am sure the whole House would want to send him our very best wishes.

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‘EXPAND OUTDOOR INDUSTRY IN CUMBRIA’ SAYS MP

Speaking to a packed out audience at the Outdoors Industry Association AGM, Rory Stewart MP said the outdoors was “the soul of Britain’ and encouraged the outdoor industry to focus more on Cumbria. ‎He argued that Cumbria could learn more from Austria and Switzerland on how to make the Outdoor Industry transform the economy.

The two day event saw around 250 delegates gather from various companies and organisations across the sector, to discuss the future of the outdoor industry, how to better engage with relevant local and national bodies, and how to encourage greater take up of outdoor activities among the British public.

The Penrith and The Border MP would like to make Cumbria a world-leader in outdoor pursuits and education, and has worked closely with Newton Rigg College and other local outdoor pursuits specialists to put in place proposals to make this a reality. Tourism is now the largest sector of the Cumbrian economy, and sustains thousands of small businesses, but Rory Stewart has previously expressed concerns that the outdoor industry’s full potential has not been recognised, and that it is often not Cumbrians who are benefiting the most.

Rory Stewart said: “I believe that all of us – including local schools and businesses – could do more to equip our local young people with the skills and experience required to take advantage of the huge potential the outdoor industry still offers here in Cumbria. We need a far more imaginative approach to bring about the perfect win-win scenario, in which we combine the genius and energy of local young people with the economic future of the region.”

The OIA AGM offered Rory Stewart the opportunity to engage with many businesses from across the UK, and he encouraged many to consider Cumbria as the perfect choice to grow and expand. Some, such as Mountain Munchkins, would seem to have taken him up on his offer, and announced they intend on relocating to his constituency.

Speaking after the event Rory Stewart said:

“The outdoor industry continues to hold huge potential for Britain, and for Cumbria in particular. Our local landscape is something very precious, and I am delighted to see so many businesses doing so well on a business model that encourages more of us to make the most of the great outdoors. I do think that more dialogue between outdoor centres, businesses, hotels and schools, would be of real benefit in the industry – especially locally – and the OIA seems like the perfect organisation in which to make this happen.”

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RORY STEWART RESPONDS TO UNION CAIRN VANDALS

Penrith and The Border MP, Rory Stewart, has expressed his sadness and disappointment upon learning that a number of people, apparently opposed to the Union have carried out acts of vandalism on the ‘Auld Acquaintance’ cairn at Gretna, which was erected in the months preceding the Scottish referendum last year, as a symbol of unity and support for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. Launched by Rory Stewart, the project saw tens of thousands of people travel to Gretna from across the United Kingdom – and further afield – to lay approximately 130,000 stones in support of the Union, many of them painted with messages, poems and names, reflecting love for Scotland and the United Kingdom.

Rory Stewart MP said:

“It is desperately sad to again see this side of the debate lashing out. Whatever side of the debate you found yourself on in the lead up to last September’s referendum, Scotland should feel incredibly proud of the energy, passion and decency in which arguments were exchanged. The cairn stands as a symbol of our common identity, shared culture, and values, and provided an opportunity for thousands of people from every corner of the UK – many without the means to vote directly in the referendum – to express their own point of view, and love for Scotland. I respect that nationalists will continue to put forward their own arguments, but I fail to see what these vandals hoped to achieve by targeting the cairn at Gretna, other than to manifest their bitterness and resentment for the way in which the Scottish people ultimately chose to vote last year.”

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RORY CALLS FOR GREATER SUPPORT TO RURAL GP PRACTICES

Following a visit to Kirkoswald GP surgery, Rory Stewart MP has written to NHS England to press that a bid to expand the practice is given the strongest possible consideration, to ensure the surrounding rural communities can continue to access quality healthcare, as close to home as possible. Rory received a tour of the small practice from Dr Geoff Sharpe & Dr Karen Sharpe, who explained how the surgery met local healthcare needs, and explained the reasons behind their desire to expand. NHS England recently announced that £1 billion is to be invested in GP premises over the next four years, to address long-held concerns over underfunding of General Practice healthcare. Kirkoswald surgery have submitted their own bid for funding, and believe they have a strong case for further support.

Rory Stewart said:

“In an area as rural and sparsely populated as our own, where our communities often have a high proportion of elderly residents in need of healthcare, the importance of small village practices, like Kirkoswald’s, cannot be understated. As our focus rightly shifts back to providing as much care and support to patients as close to home as possible, rural surgeries are a vital asset, and I have repeatedly stressed their importance and value to colleagues and ministers in government. I was only too happy to support Kirkoswald surgery’s bid. They are a great local practice and have a strong case for expanding, to ensure they remain viable and effective for local residents in the long-term.”

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MORE POWER FOR LOCAL COMMUNITIES THE ANSWER TO POLITICAL APATHY, SAYS RORY STEWART MP

As part of the Words by the Water festival in Keswick, local Penrith and The Border MP, Rory Stewart, spoke alongside Baroness Shirley Williams and Lord Richard Inglewood, in an hour-long debate that focused on the state of British politics, and why so many of us feel disengaged and disaffected. Rory Stewart suggested that a lack of trust in politics was partly the result of its removal from our everyday lives, and called for a far greater move towards localism, devolving more power to local authorities, and promoting the idea of local mayors to restore a clearer sense of local accountability. The Cumbrian MP also agreed that more needed to be done to encourage women to become involved in politics, and offered to support Baroness Shirley Williams’ campaign to tackle abusive internet users, who are currently able to hide behind anonymity when posting aggressive and abusive comments – often aimed at high profile women in particular.

With a different take on localism, Rory Stewart also spoke to a full audience later in the afternoon on the need for a much deeper understanding of local culture, history, politics and language, if Britain is to remain a relevant and helpful force in many of the world’s most unstable countries and conflict zones. Focusing on Yemen and Libya in particular, Rory Stewart explained how a poor understanding of politics on-the-ground in the two countries, left British diplomatic and military services unable to predict how events would unfold, and unable to propose any serious solutions.

Speaking after the talks, Rory Stewart said:

“Words by the Water is a really great event, and provides a forum for some really interesting debate and discussion. That almost no one in the audience this morning, when asked, expressed the desire to ever become an MP is a worrying indication about the state of British politics. But unless we have more conversations like this one, and bring politics much closer to people’s everyday lives, then we are unlikely to come up with any real solutions.”

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RORY RAISES FIREFIGHTERS’ ON-GOING PENSION CONCERNS WITH GOVERNMENT MINISTER

Following a meeting with local firefighters at the Penrith Fire Station, Rory Stewart MP has again raised concerns over firefighter’s pensions with Penny Mordaunt MP – the Government Minister responsible for Fire Services. In particular, Rory Stewart has sought further assurances and clarification over job security and pension payouts for those firefighters over the age of 55 who are unable meet fitness requirements. The Penrith and The Border MP has worked with representatives of the Fire Brigade on this issue for many months, and has repeatedly pressed for firm assurances that under the new pension scheme, firefighters over 55 would not find themselves penalised in any way, should they fail a fitness test. Rory Stewart was given a full tour of the new Penrith Fire Station, and observed a training drill which saw firefighters simulate a rescue at a road traffic accident. The local MP had a chance to handle the heavy machinery often required in such an emergency, to get a sense of the physical demands expected of firefighters, whose retirement age has recently risen to 60.

Rory Stewart said:

“In December last year, government made a clear commitment that those firefighters over 55 would be offered redeployment opportunities or an unreduced pension should they fail a fitness test. At the time, this had seemed a fantastic result for firefighters who have led a great campaign on this issue. But it now appears that some fire and rescue service employers – like Cumbria County Council locally – do not feel the legal position has changed, and have refused to guarantee the assurances laid out by government. This is disappointing, and firefighters have a right to feel frustrated by this latest setback. I have therefore written again to Penny Mordaunt, to ask that her office review the current stance of local authorities, and ensure that one way or another, firefighters are not unfairly penalised as a result.”

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RORY JOINS WITH YOUNG CUMBRIANS TO CELEBRATE NCS ACTION DAY

To commemorate National Citizen Service Action Day on March 7th, Rory Stewart MP, met with young Cumbrians in the centre of Penrith to celebrate and further support the NCS movement. Rory Stewart has been a strong advocate of NCS since its launch in 2011, and has previously called for the programme to be rolled out on a much bigger scale, with the majority of 16 and 17 year olds ideally taking part. The NCS is a part-residential programme, set up to help young people build greater confidence, self-awareness and responsibility, and provides them with the means and support to develop their own social action projects for local community issues they are passionate about. At Penrith bandstand on Saturday, the young volunteers were encouraging members of the public to complete a survey structured around the upcoming election and the UK political system.

Rory Stewart said:

“Cumbria has been a national pilot for the National Citizen”s Service, and it was a real pleasure to again meet young Cumbrians taking part in the scheme, and actively engaged in their local community. It is easy to see how much young people take from the experience, and I really hope we can continue to roll out NCS so that even more young people can benefit.”

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RORY STEWART CHAIRS FORESTRY THINK-TANK ON THE FUTURE OF COMMERCIAL WOODLAND IN NORTH ENGLAND

Rory Stewart MP held the first meeting of his forestry and woodlands advisory group this year, to focus specifically on the future of commercial forestry in the North of England. Attended by key local representatives from the timber industry, the advisory group were briefed by the United Kingdom Forestry Products Association on the need for a significant increase in commercial planting if timber production is to continue to meet long-term demand. The UKFPA have produced a report – Roots to Propserity – which considers opportunities for growth and development in the North of England, and the think tank reflected on how best the timber industry could identify suitable land for new planting.

As an industry which employs over 2,500 people in Penrith and The Border – more than a third of the total number of forestry and wood-processing jobs in England – and which brings in over £600m per year to the local economy, Rory Stewart set up the think-tank in 2011 to identify what more government can be doing to support local timber businesses. In the latest meeting, the local MP agreed to work further with the industry to identify if government mechanisms can be setup that would help address the financial risk and complexity of the application process. In some cases, the process is currently dissuading commercial planters from sourcing new land, which could lead to a potential timber shortage in the future.

Speaking after the meeting, Rory Stewart said:

“Forestry and timber production is such an important part of the local economy, and a huge source of local employment here in Cumbria. We are very lucky to have such a depth of expertise and experience in our local timber industry and we need to capitalise on this, to ensure the industry’s future in the North of England – and particularly in Penrith and The Border – is secure. Local businesses today identified where they have concerns, and I hope I can continue to work alongside them to come up with solutions that benefit local communities and the local economy.”