Monthly Archives: December 2011


loveday house in wigton

Rory visited Wigton’s Loveday House on Saturday 26th November to highlight the need to combat the increasing trend in festive isolation, helping national charity Abbeyfield – which runs Loveday House – to launch its nationwide campaign, Companionship At Christmas, which aims to create an alternative to spending the celebratory period alone.

As part of the campaign, the charity is offering over 1,000 overnight stays and 2,000 delicious Christmas lunches over the festive season (24th December – 4th January) across 104 Abbeyfield sheltered houses – totally free of charge – including Loveday House at Wigton. The charity will be inviting members of local communities with elderly neighbours living alone, family members in need of respite support and those who plan to spend the Christmas period alone to get in touch.

Rory Stewart said: “Christmas is a traditional time of family and companionship. It is so sad that 850,000 older people are chronically lonely and, while this is a daily issue, being alone or lonely is particularly heartbreaking around Christmas time. I am honoured to be supporting this campaign and greatly enjoyed meeting and chatting with residents at Loveday House in my constituency to highlight this important initiative.”

“If you or someone you know are over 55, alone over Christmas and currently living independently in your own home, you are encouraged to take advantage of the support Abbeyfield are offering by visiting or calling  0845 052 3553.You may also wish to nominate someone you know or a family member who may be a long distance from loved ones.”



eurozone crisis

This morning, I saw David Cameron on his way to negotiate the treaty on the bail-out of the Eurozone. He looked surprisingly calm, given the worries of the last fortnight:  Britain has announced its worst economic figures since the Second World War; Egypt’s economy is collapsing; Syria is approaching civil war; Iran has taken another step towards the bomb, and has sent a mob to ransack the British Embassy; and now the Prime Minister is drawn again into the European crisis. Britain is not in the Euro-zone, has no intention of joining, and is not a major contributor to the rescue package.  But Europe is our closest neighbour and trading partner. And the European Union has been, for decades, a phenomenon which has divided and traumatised the Conservative party. So while the Prime Minister’s priority in this treaty negotiation is to minimise damage to our own economy, he also hopes to get some powers back from Brussels.

How hard should he push for concessions? Might Merkel and Sarkozy understand the depth of British feeling about over-regulation, and make a gracious gesture? Or would they feel blackmailed at a vulnerable time and respond bitterly? Would they feel they need our support (to enforce their rules through the European court, for example)? Or would they feel they can do without us? And if they ignored us, and made the treaty as an inner group of seventeen, would this mean only a couple of amendments which affected the Euro-zone, but were irrelevant to Britain? Or might the seventeen impose budget rules, unify their labour laws, and financial laws, and create an inner bloc, which would undermine British services, without our influence? Are the French and Germans themselves divided over the European Commission, the nation state, and nations’ obligations to each other? And what will become of the Euro-zone? A group of sixteen countries, if Greece leaves? Or eighteen, if someone else joins? Or no-one, if the whole thing collapses? Would Greece’s departure make the zone more credible, or would it topple the rest of the system as it goes?

These, and a dozen other questions, including the views of his own back-benchers, haunt the Prime Minister’s strategy. None are a closed set of clear questions, with only two answers from which he has only to select a single combination, and derive a single policy. If he could say confidently, ‘the Treaty is an existential threat, we can stop it, and Europe won’t resent our attempt’; or conversely, ‘the Treaty isn’t a threat, we can’t stop it, and Europe would resent our attempt’, he would be certain whether or not to stop it. But, instead he may feel that the Treaty is a potential threat without being certain how severe; that Britain has some power to stop it but our leverage is weak; that Europe will resent it but it is not clear how seriously or how dangerously; and that there may be merit even in a veto that fails. Meanwhile, the global context in which he is working, continues to deteriorate.

After eighteen months of international conferences and policy papers, seminars and rescue packages, Europe has not stabilised. Greece is still unwilling to leave the Euro, and still unwilling to make the reforms to avoid leaving the Euro; Italy, our third largest economy, is struggling to borrow at affordable rates. The market continues to fret and lose and profit, and Germany continues to become every day more powerful than its neighbours. Day by day, the risks, not just for Portugal, but for Britain, and even the United States, increase. The price of failure now seems many times deeper and harsher than anything we have experienced in the last five years. But what is the magic formula which can reassure the markets now? Stability mechanisms, Euro-bonds, credit-easing, Chinese sovereign wealth support, and supply side reforms? Financial integration and budgetary supervision? And how much money is required now? One trillion? Three trillion?  Unlimited guarantees from the European Central Bank?

What will European governments and their tax-payers accept? What is the limit to their self-sacrifice, altruism, and commitment to the project? And can we even be sure what effect Europe has on the British economy? Is it simply a stifling restrictive environment which costs us eight billion pounds in lost competitiveness, and another eight billion pounds in membership fees, and which we could leave, while shedding regulations, and keeping our free access to markets? Or might Europe prevent us from following the Swiss lead of free trade without membership? And are we sunk so deep into the European economy (with three millions jobs and fifty per cent of our trade dependent on Europe) that Britain could hardly survive outside the Union?

Cameron will do his best to bring Britain out of this particular Treaty negotiation, and protect us from this particular crisis. But Britain’s strategy and approach in Europe and the world, over the next decades, must ultimately be rooted in a public debate.  We, as citizens, need to drive the detailed, vigorous questioning, which alone can determine the balance of our dreams, our income, and our interests. It will not be easy to create or recreate such a political culture. But we cannot allow, indefinitely, our relationship to our closest neighbors to be reduced to the calculations of economists, the improvisations of statesmen, and a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a referendum paper.

cumbria’s six mps form cumbrian ‘select committee’

Cumbria’s six Members of Parliament have come together to form a committee that will focus exclusively on Cumbrian issues. The move follows a series of joint initiatives and debates over the last eighteen months, including a Westminster Hall debate on flooding, an Adjournment debate on teaching assistants, and a joint article in the Cumberland News on wind turbines.

This new committee, which Workington MP Tony Cunningham describes as “a select committee for Cumbria” held its first formal meeting last Wednesday when it met with and interviewed Richard Leafe of the Lake District National Park Association about the National Park’s challenges. The Cumbrian committee’s next meeting, in the new year, will focus on the Cumbrian economy.

Rory said: “I’m really pleased that we are all working on these issues as a cross-party Cumbrian committee. Cumbria has unique needs and challenges, and we are absolutely committed as a group to fight for the best for our county. We welcome suggestions from constituents for topics of discussion, and hope very much that we will be able to positively influence policy-making that will have a direct impact on all of our constituents.”

Tony Cunningham MP said: “There are issues which are Cumbria-wide and which do not involve ‘ politics’.  We hope to make sure that we are working together in trying to resolve some of these issues.”

Tim Farron MP said: “Working together on issues like democratising the National park, improving west coast main line services and pushing for more government funding for Cumbria that can be spent on projects like Backbarrow Ironworks means I can help deliver more investment for our community. I think that together we provide a strong voice for Cumbria.”

John Stevenson MP said: “‘I fully support the idea of Cumbrian MPs coming together to discuss Cumbrian issues and where possible, having a common view. All of the major parties are represented in Cumbria so we do cover the full spectrum of views which allows for a healthy discussion. It is in everyone’s interest for Cumbria to succeed and as MPs, it is our responsibility to assist with this.”



rory breaks ground at warcop cyberbarn


Rory attended an opening event at Warcop’s Cyberbarn, where he officially began the 1-mile fibre dig to the village, intended to bring hyperfast connectivity to this UK Online Outreach Centre and its neighbours. Rory met with Cyberbarn users and supporters, and helped splice the fibre-optic cable that will be used to connect this remote part of the Upper Eden valley.

Cyberbarn is a UK first, opened last month by Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt on invitation from Rory, and offers online and IT courses to everyone in Upper Eden and beyond. Rory’s visit, and enthusiastic wielding of a spade, is a first step in connecting the Cyberbarn to fibre-optic cabling nationally, bringing untold opportunities to all the residents of this rural and remote part of his constituency.

Cyberbarn founder and local broadband champion Lindsey Annison said:“The weather, which included driving snow at one point, was inclement for digging fibre, but by breaking the ground today Upper Eden has shown the passion of all parties to make Fibre To The Home and next generation mobile broadband a reality. The work parties will continue until the one mile of fibre is connected into the UK core network, and we are hugely grateful to Rory for his ongoing support and determination to make Upper Eden a pioneer in all things broadband-related.”

Visitors today included guests from afar: Disconnected Wales, Can’t Get Online social media surgeon John Popham from Huddersfield, as well as visitors from closer to home, John Colton of Lucid Optical Services and Fibre Garden from Garsdale, Warcop parish councillors and residents, local businesses, and the Upper Eden Community Plan’s project officer and national digital champion Libby Bateman. Rory spoke to the packed house about technical and community aspects of the task ahead in 2012.

Cyberbarn offers a warm welcome and IT answers for every sector of this community, as well as others from within and beyond Cumbria. It is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1-7pm and is situated between Warcop and Bleatarn at Cote House Farm. The New Year will see further courses added to help local businesses succeed with all aspects of internet marketing, one to one courses on website design, eBay, Skype, Twitter, Flickr, bespoke 15 minute courses to fit in your busy day, and short courses such as smart application development for teenagers and those seeking a career shift into IT.

rory convenes meeting to solve kemplay roundabout issues

Rory, with the help of local County Councillor Helen Fearon, has convened a site meeting with Highways Agency representatives in January to address issues at the Kemplay Roundabout. The move comes after Councillor Fearon formally raised concerns with Enterprise Mouchel on behalf of the Eden Local Committee, of which she is Chair, and Cumbria Highways about recent modifications to the roundabout, and the resulting safety concerns.

Rory said: “Many constituents have contacted me with their concerns about the Kemplay roundabout, which – and I speak from experience – is a challenging place to navigate. I felt that the best thing to do would be to get the Highways Agency to join myself and Councillor Helen Fearon at the site in January to look at some very specific questions about the safety of the roundabout. They should be addressed urgently. We need better road and arrow markings, giving drivers more time to identify the correct lanes. We need better destination signs on the approach roads, and there is concern about the traffic signals, which seem to be exacerbating congestion rather than improving it. I would like to acknowledge the hard work that Councillor Fearon has undertaken to date in lobbying on behalf of her constituents, and I hope very much that the Highways Agency will act on our concerns.”

Councillor Fearon said: “The most pressing concern is the general layout of the roundabout, in particular the use of road markings and their current inability to effectively guide and direct drivers into the appropriate lanes. The signalisation and use of spiral markings at the M6 Junction 40 has been very successful, and there are several factors which we feel have aided this; by comparison, there are too few markings at Kemplay, resulting in sudden lane-changes, drivers being cut-up, and some becoming stranded in the wrong lane. No lane destination signs have been provided, which would have been a great help. I am glad that our local MP is helping to convene this meeting, so that we can show the Highways Agency what is going wrong, and look at ways in which to cooperate and address the problem.”


rory’s praise for penrith’s coronation garden

Rory has offered his congratulations to the Penrith Rotary Club and Eden District Council on receiving the news that Penrith’s Coronation Garden is to be restored, thanks to a grant of almost £170,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The project, managed by the Rotary Club and with the local Council’s support, was given a development grant of almost £21,000 one year ago by HLF to work up detailed plans. These were completed recently, submitted for approval and now the remainder of the grant has been released. The Coronation Garden, a small plot of land adjacent to the Town Hall, was created in 1938 to celebrate the Coronation of King George VI. In recent years, however, it had fallen into disrepair and was rarely visited by the public.

Rory said: “This will be a marvellous boost for Penrith, which boasts so many hidden architectural gems. The garden is a lovely spot, tucked away behind the Town Hall, and will I am sure be restored beautifully now that the grant has been approved. The Rotary Club and Eden District Council have worked enormously hard to get a great restoration plan together. Paths and planted areas will be restored, and surviving original features – including the entrance gates – will be given a new lease of life. Replica railings will be built, and new features will include raised flower beds, a sensory garden and a rail to aid sight-impaired people. I am very much looking forward to this restoration, another important milestone in Penrith’s regeneration as a significant Cumbrian market town.”

Sara Hilton, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North West, said: “We are delighted to be able to support the full restoration of this precious green-space right in the heart of the town. It can be enjoyed by local people and visitors once more as well as offering insights into the town’s history.”

use the home heat helpline this festive season

New figures reveal that one in ten households, or 3.5 million homes in Britain – equating to approximately 3,800 households in Penrith and the Border – could be entitled to some form of assistance with their fuel bills, help that is estimated to be worth an average of £250 per household. A free helpline is available for more information.

Lending his support to the campaign, Rory said: “Around 3,800 homes in Penrith and the Border are entitled to some form of support. Anyone who is concerned about staying warm should call the Home Heat Helpline and seek advice. I have spoken many times about the need for greater awareness about the help that is available to households in difficulty, and I would also ask people to look out for neighbours, friends or relatives who may be struggling at this time of year and make sure that they are aware of the Home Heat Helpline.”

Christine McGourty from the Home Heat Helpline also advises people to think about what they can do around the home to reduce their energy consumption: “As well as calling the Home Heat Helpline to find out what financial assistance is available there are some other simple steps people can take. For example:

· turn radiators down in rooms which you only use occasionally
· switch your lights off when you’re not using them
· turn appliances like TVs and phone chargers off at the wall rather than leaving them on standby when they’re not being used
· replace normal light bulbs with energy efficient ones
· regularly defrost your freezer to make sure it’s operating at full efficiency· draw curtains over windows at night to provide insulation for the room
· move furniture away from radiators and heaters to allow heat to circulate around the room
· open internal doors of any rooms which get more sun than others and let the warm air travel around your home”The number for the Home Heat Helpline is 0800 33 66 99 or you can visit It is a free service that provides independent advice to people on low incomes on how to get help with their gas and electricity bills as well as other help such as grants for insulation or a new boiler.


rory suggests new flood defence solutions for rickerby

Rory invited Carlisle City Council and Environment Agency representatives to attend a meeting with constituents who are members of the Rickerby Flood Action Group to discuss the group’s history, and brokered a potential solution to the community’s flood defence problems. The group hopes to further reinforce flood defences at Rickerby Park, Carlisle, and requested Rory’s assistance in finding more affordable and innovative ways to reinforce the local defences.

The Flood Action Group, which was founded in January 2010, consists of a committee of six members led by local resident Alison Hampson. They discussed with Rory the impact of the 2005 and 2009 floods on Rickerby, and their concerns regarding the need for more resilient up-stream defences. Although the group have received a small grant from the Council for approximately £25,000 to spend on emergency flood bags, residents remain concerned that they are a “forgotten” part of Carlisle. Rory Stewart suggested that the community ‘match-fund’ resources of their own to help meet the Environment Agency half-way, suggesting small financial contributions per household, construction materials from local developer Fred Story, and flexibility in where residents might accept any new flood defence structure to be positioned on their land.

Rory said: “Flooding in Rickerby in the past has obviously caused a great deal of distress for residents; the fact that fewer residents have been affected than in other more populated areas does not mean that we can simply forget this part of Carlisle, which is located right on the Brunstock Beck and has in both 2005 and 2009 been affected by severe flooding. Anyone affected by flooding knows that the impact is not only physical, but psychological too. The residents’ group are prepared to contribute resources in order to help make a better flood defence system more affordable, and to ensure that they do not live in fear of future flood damage. I am delighted that  we were able to bring both Cumbria County Council and the Environment Agency into the meeting in order to discuss a more flexible approach to building a more affordable flood defence system here, with some degree of community match-funding and involvement.”


championing the local internal drainage board

Rory is encouraging all constituents affected by increased drainage problems on the Solway Plain waterways to engage in the current Environment Agency consultation on the potential for an Internal Drainage Board (IDB) on the Solway Plain. The local MP has been supportive of the Waver Wiza Wampool Waterways group’s efforts to establish an IDB in the region since his election as MP, and is delighted that the local group – led by Duncan Stuart –  has progressed its plans so significantly.

The IDB consultation page can be found at The purpose of the consultation is to gather people’s views on local pilots of the new draft national guidance document which outlines an agreed methodology for creating new IDBs. It is being undertaken on behalf of the South Cumbria Water Level Management Group and the Waver Wiza Wampool Waterways group, and aims to be an initial investigation into the feasibility of setting up an IDB in these two catchments.

Rory said: “The Environment Agency’s consultation is a great step forward. It shows that the local – and entirely community-driven – group is being listened to, and I strongly encourage all farmers, land-owners and residents on the Solway Plain to engage in this consultation and make their views known, as well as encouraging their neighbours to do the same.  Keeping this land from becoming a waterlogged bog costs farmers thousands of pounds each year that they can ill afford. We are pressing for a catchment-wide solution, and are hoping for a strong community response. Please do get involved.”

rory continues to fight for bbc radio cumbria

Rory attended a lobby of Parliament by the National Union of Journalists in an event before Christmas which was also attended by employees of BBC Radio Cumbria. The lobby visited Westminster to meet with elected representatives and voice their objections over proposals by the BBC to make drastic cuts to local radio services, and in particular to local station BBC Radio Cumbria.

The two-hour session in Parliament saw a variety of presentations of the plans forming part of the BBC’s ‘Delivering Quality First’ programme, resulting in cuts on average of 12% to all local radio stations in England, and specifically a 20% reduction in funding for BBC Radio Cumbria. This was followed by an open meeting, giving members of the public the chance to raise their concerns.

Rory said: “Throughout my term as MP for Penrith and the Border I have, without exception, found myself arguing the case for Cumbria as a unique British region. The county furthest from the BBC’s headquarters in London, it is a geographically vast area that encompasses the industrial West ‘energy’ coast, the urban centre of Carlisle, the rural tourist destinations of the south and central lakes, and the remote farming borderlands of the far north of the county. BBC Radio Cumbria is the most listened to local radio station of the country, and is the only local broadcaster serving an entire county: in terms of coverage, this would cover an equivalent area, in the south of England, of north-west London to the Isle of Wight. As a local news provider, the station already works tirelessly to cover stories as they happen: and Cumbria has, for many reasons, been consistently in the spotlight in recent years. The BBC Cumbria team was amongst the first on the scene of many recent emergency situations. There is no doubt that the savings of 20% that BBC Radio Cumbria is being asked to make will have a disproportionately negative effect on the BBC’s output here in the county, and I have urged the BBC Trust to reconsider this decision, and have invited Lord Patten to visit Cumbria and see for himself the very unique position we are in.”

Under current proposals, BBC Radio Cumbria could be forced to axe the equivalent of 9.4 full time equivalent posts. In reality this would translate to 12 or 13 members of staff losing their jobs – around a third of the station’s workforce. The station would also lose at least 50 hours of local programming every week as it is forced to share more programming with other local radio stations.