Very happy Easter. And a particularly happy Easter to all of those who suffered from some of the horrifying winter weather.
The conditions that we all witnessed through Storm Emma were unbelievably difficult. Farmers I met disagreed about when the snows had last been so heavy, but there’s certainly no doubt that we haven’t seen anything like it for decades. Every one of the dozens of farms that I visited seemed to have experienced different extreme conditions. In some the problem was the depth of snow, in others the temperatures, and in others the Helm Wind. And it was, of course, not only farmers who suffered. I was deeply moved by the resilience of elderly people, in Nenthead, Stainmore, on East Fellside, and in Bewcastle. I was very proud to be able to meet and hear some of the stories from the district nurses at Kirby Stephen and Penrith, to be in the Gold and Silver Command Centres with police, fire and rescue, and all the other emergency services. And we owe a special debt of gratitude to the Mountain Rescue teams who, as always, went above and beyond.
There has been some good news amongst the dreadful weather. In particular I am really pleased that we’ve made progress on pushing for a Borderlands Growth Deal. This is something I began pushing before the Scottish Referendum, as a way of acknowledging how much we have in common across the English-Scottish border. I was pleased to be able to take forwards some initiatives when I was DEFRA Minister on the Environment, Farming and Forestry. But the Chancellor’s announcement of a new deal in the Budget should provide the resources needed to take this all to a new level. I’ll be working very closely with councils on both sides of the border and with John Stevenson, the Carlisle MP, who will be playing a leading role in this project, and I will keep you updated.
Cumbria’s reputation continues to grow. We have had one of the strongest economic growth rates in the country in recent years. Last year was a good year for tourism and it’s been fantastic to see this recognised, whether on ‘Cumbria Day’ in Westminster or through the Lake District achieving its UNESCO World Heritage status. I was particularly pleased to see Cranstons and The Toffee Shop at Westminster.
I have now been made the Prisons Minister and am really focused on getting out and seeing as many prisons as possible and tackling some of the basic challenges. My first priority is to clean up the prisons and reduce the flow of drugs. Decent, safe prisons are vital for protecting prison officers, prisoners and, ultimately, the public. I hope to make serious progress in the next twelve months and be judged on my ability to do this.
As ever, please do get in touch if you have a problem to discuss or if there is anything with which I can help you.
With best wishes,