RORY STEWART MP WINS GOVERNMENT COMMITMENT TO FUNDING FOR CUMBRIAN BROADBAND

Local MP for Penrith and The Border Rory Stewart today received a commitment from broadband Minister Ed Vaizey on government’s backing of a flexible funding solution to ensure that Cumbria’s superfast broadband rollout will reach its targets this year.

Speaking in a debate in Westminster Hall this afternoon, the MP – who has championed rural broadband in an almost 5-year campaign – challenged the Minister to guarantee future funding for Cumbria broadband.‎ And in particular he urged the Minister to resolve a stand-off between government departments, which he argues would prevent Cumbria getting additional EU funds.

Rory’s interventions today follow his campaign over the Christmas recess to lobby the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid; the head of Broadband Delivery UK, Chris Townsend; and the Minister for Local Government, Lord Ahmad of Wimbeldon, to step up their efforts to make sure that the national pilot in Cumbria – which has been supported by the Prime Minister and successive Ministers in government – continues to achieve its aims of delivering the best broadband in Europe to Cumbria, through the extension of delivery and accounting deadlines.

Commenting on the debate, Rory said: “Our Cumbrian broadband project is tackling the most sparsely populated area in England. And this requires special flexibility from government. By its very nature, Cumbria has been the national test bed for delivering rural broadband, and must keep doing all we can until we reach the goal of delivering not only the 93 per cent coverage to homes and businesses by the end of this year, but also – crucially for the people of Penrith and The Border in particular – of connecting the remaining 7 per cent of homes, who are those most in need of being connected to this increcibly important utility. That is why I pressed the Minister today to confirm absolutely that Cumbria would not end up in a situation where inflexibility and a narrow interpretation of EU guidelines could leave us with tens of thousands of constituents without broadband coverage, which would be intolerable.”

Minister Ed Vaizey responded:  “I absolutely take on board my honourable friend’s point, which he also made to me over the Christmas recess, and I can confirm that the Secretary of State is in touch with the relevant minister at DCLG. We are making a confident case to DCLG that we can continue to spend the money throughout 2015 without any danger of spending the money after the cut-off date at the end of 2015. The Member for Penrith and The Border’s points are well made, we agree with them, and we are working hard with DCLG to come up with a solution because it is important, when European money is on the table, that that money is spent well on behalf of our constituents.”

Rory Stewart also personally contacted all parishes and broadband champions in his constituency over the Christmas break, to encourage as many as possible to feed into the Connecting Cumbria Phase 2 consultation which closes this Friday 9th January. He is also fighting for the remaining 7 per cent of homes and businesses to be prioritised in the next phase.

He said: “Cumbria has a right to feel proud of the broadband service it will have delivered by the end of 2015. Many Cumbrians have fought hard to secure the best possible deal for our rural communities. But up to seven per cent of houses are still missing out and it is these – our most rural and isolated communities – that will benefit the most from broadband technology. That is why this second phase of Connecting Cumbria’s broadband rollout absolutely must focus on these communities, to ensure no one is left behind.”

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