Monthly Archives: January 2012

forestry and woodlands advisory group

Rory  held the second meeting of his forestry and woodlands advisory group last Friday 20th February, attended by representatives from public and private sector organisations, including the Forestry Commission, the Friends of the Lake District, Natural England, the University of Cumbria, the National Trust, and the processing industry.

The discussion covered the Independent Forestry Panel’s interim report, an overview of the processing sector from industry representatives, examples of community-led solutions to managing woodland being piloted by the National Trust, forestry education issues, and forestry within the context of land-management. The group will continue to meet in the lead up to the Independent Forestry Panel’s final report, which is expected to be presented to DEFRA in May 2012.

Rory said: “I feel very privileged indeed to have such a knowledgeable and thoughtful group representing a real cross-section of interests related to our forestry and woodlands, all feeding in to a comprehensive constituency response to the panel’s report. We had a valuable discussion today, covering an enormously varied selection of issues relating to our forests and woods: from the processing industry, to ecological and farming issues, to community benefits and the importance of preserving our landscape. I am confident that we will be able to formulate a powerful response to the report that will stand us in good stead ahead of any future policy changes suggested by Defra, and ensure that we get the best possible outcome for Penrith and the Border.”


real-life entrepreneurs

Rory  met and chatted with almost twenty small businesses from his constituency last Friday at an event organised by the Federation of Small Businesses, and pledged his support for small businesses by signing up to the FSB’s new campaign championing ‘Real-Life Entrepreneurs’. Businesses attending included Love Solar, Dodd and Co accountants, Maureen Whitemore Interior Design, Ling Joinery, Appleby Manor Hotel, Dipper Foods and Out of Eden.


At the meeting – hosted by Dodds Accountants in Penrith – Rory listened to discussion on the issues affecting small businesses in his constituency, and offered his support to help the FSB press for an enterprise-friendly economy. Topics raised included access to credit, burdensome rules and regulations, employment and apprenticeship issues, and the state of the national economy.


Rory said: “The reality is that there is no template small Cumbrian business, and Penrith and the Border is a record-breaking constituency in this respect, with a higher number of small businesses, self-employed people, and businesses employing less than ten people than any other part of England. If we are looking for a recipe for economic recovery, it is small businesses that have the solution. We could solve the unemployment problem overnight if every small business could take on just one employee each. Large businesses might be less vulnerable, but it is micro-businesses such as those gathered here today who will drive the future of national economic recovery.”


Gary Lovatt, FSB Regional Chairman said: “We are grateful to Rory Stewart for meeting with FSB members and pledging to try to support them.  Members had a number of concerns around access to finance, regulations and taxation which Mr Stewart was very interested to hear about.”



uplands advisory group

Rory has established and held an inaugural meeting of an ‘uplands advisory group’ to ensure the concerns of Cumbrian hill farmers are heard in Westminster. The group will serve as a sounding board and policy guide to the local MP, who has already established Young Farmers’ and Dairy advisory groups. The meeting, chaired by Mervyn Edwards of the Cumbria Hill Farming Discussion Group, was attended also by members of the Lakeland Discussion Group and Will Cockbain of the NFU and Natural England. Farmers present represented hill-farms from near Hesket Newmarket, Kirkoswald, Haweswater, Skelton, Kirkby Stephen and Greystoke, and the discussion focused on CAP reform 2013, agri-environment schemes, the importance of sustainable employment in the uplands, and the potential for expanded export markets for sheep.


Rory said: “The Cumbrian uplands require a clear voice in Parliament: Cumbrian uplands require unique policy solutions, different regulations, and the need for a strong advocate in Westminster. Penrith and the Border is, statistically, the ‘number one’ uplands constituency in England, and I feel it a proud duty to be able to represent hill farmers’ needs in Parliament. We need to fight very hard to preserve our landscape in the Lake District, which has been shaped, formed and protected by our uplands communities for years. I am delighted to have such a strong group of hill farmers to advise me on these issues, and look forward to regular meetings ahead.”

Rory Speaks in Debate on Strategic Defence and Security Review


The greatest damage to our nation over the past 10 years has not been done by the enemy: it has been done by ourselves. And it has not been done, contrary to what we often believe, by what we have not done. It is not the result of the money we failed to raise, the equipment we failed to purchase or the actions we failed to take. The damage that we have inflicted on ourselves comes from our decisions to get involved in theatres such as Iraq, and Helmand in Afghanistan.

The gap, the fundamental problem, with the SDSR—it was true of John Nott’s review in 1982 and Lord Robertson’s review in 1998 and it is true of our review today—is a gap of strategy. It is a gap of thought. We are spending over £30 billion a year on a military without developing the policy and strategic capability to decide where we are prepared to be involved, and what, fundamentally, our national interests should be. Our national interest is dependent, above all, on two things: an understanding of what our priorities are and how to match our resources to those priorities, and an understanding of our limits—what we cannot do.

What is striking about Lord Robertson’s report is that there he is, in 1998, making confident statements about Britain’s future and the risks it faces—confident statements about weapons of mass destruction and terrorism—but the proof of the pudding was in the eating. We then launched ourselves into Iraq and Helmand, and in doing so took on issues that did not match our national interest.

What is the solution to that problem? The solution, first, is to understand that our model of policy making is at fault. The military, rightly, have a very traditional view of policy making. They imagine that politicians define the national interest, the Foreign Office creates the policy framework and the generals advise and then implement the policy—perhaps giving operational advice on how to implement that strategy. The reality is, of course, quite different. The world has changed. We need to recognise that; the military need to recognise that; the SDSR needs recognise that. The reality is that although in constitutional theory it is the politicians who make the decision and the Foreign Office that provides the policy framework, in practice the strength, the authority and the charisma of the senior military is higher today than it has been at any time in British or American history.

To see that, one needs to look only at the experience of President Obama dealing with General McChrystal in 2009. What, in effect, happened is that McChrystal issued a report in 2009, saying he needs 40,000 more troops. The President of the United States attempted to respond. He went into a nine-week consultation process, at the end of which, entirely predictably, he could do only exactly what his General requested, but a little bit less—give him 35,000 instead of 40,000. Yet the assessment was disastrous. In the small print, General McChrystal says, “I need 40,000 troops but my strategy will never work unless the Afghan Government sort their act out. And by the way, I, General McChrystal, am not responsible for sorting out the Afghan Government; that will be done by somebody else. It will be done by the State Department. It will be done by USAID.” Yet nobody appears to be able in the system to challenge him. Why not? Although theoretically the politicians have the decisive ability and the policy is owned by someone else, nobody is going to face down a man with a row of medals on his chest who has served six years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan and who says, “This is what I need.” No Democrat President and, I would suggest, no politician in Britain today would have the authority and confidence to disagree with such a man.

What is the solution to that problem? It is that we spend more money and invest far more in a policy capacity whose primary function is to keep us out of wars—to make it more difficult for us to engage in disastrous and costly adventures of the sort we have seen in the past decade. That means, above all, investing in the Foreign Office, which needs to remember that its function is fundamentally policy and politics. It is about understanding exactly what is happening in a particular country, so that if a Prime Minister were to suggest, for example, that he wished to invade Iraq, we would not have the situation we had last time in which not a single senior serving diplomat in the Foreign Office in London disagreed in any way with the Prime Minister’s statement. That happened because we did not know anything; we had not invested in knowing anything. We did not have diplomats on the ground and our intelligence assets were very limited.

The military imagine, quite rightly, that they exist in a context in which other people will disagree with them. They feel embattled and that they have to challenge civilians—that they have to thump the table and demand things. They assume that somehow Prime Ministers or diplomats will push back against them, but that push-back does not happen. We could help not only by having more political focus and more diplomats and embassies focused precisely on these issues, but by insisting that every batch of young diplomats has at least one or two members of the foreign service who are posted to the military for one or two years at the beginning of their careers, not posted to staff college at the age of 40. They should be sent on the equivalent of a gap-year commission or national service, so that we begin to redevelop what we had instinctively in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, which is civilians who understand both the strengths and the weaknesses of the military.

The military in the meantime need to understand that that context does not yet exist and that they cannot expect the Foreign Office to have the confidence or the resources to push back against them. General McChrystal, to return to the less controversial ground of the United States, should be producing reports saying not, “I need 40,000 troops to win,” but, “Unless somebody sorts out the Afghan Government, and I see no evidence that anybody’s going to do that, there’s no point giving me 40,000 troops because I’m not going to be able to win.” In other words, in the absence of a real civilian check, the military are going to have to provide that check themselves.

Why is that relevant to the strategic defence review? Without that form of analysis and intelligence and policy work, we will not have a definition of our national interest. Without a definition of our national interest, we cannot have a strategy. Without a strategy, there is no point having a strategic defence review.

kemplay roundabout

Rory and County Councillor Helen Fearon received an undertaking on Friday that the problems at Kemplay roundabout would be solved. The meeting was attended by representatives of both Cumbria Highways and the Highways Agency, which is responsible for the roundabout, with discussions focusing on issues of road markings, traffic signs, and the phasing of traffic signals.

Rory said: “We had a very positive and fruitful meeting today in response to the many complaints from residents and those using the roundabout regularly. We are enormously grateful to the Highways Agency for attending and for listening to the issues raised. They responded very positively, and I can confirm that we have obtained their commitment to look at improving line delineation and destination markings, and the traffic signal sequences are being re-examined also. We will watch closely in the coming weeks to see how matters improve, and I am extremely encouraged that the Highways Agency have taken the suggestions of local residents, Cumbria Highways Officers and Councillor Helen Fearon on board .  It is great that we are working together on this in an open and productive fashion.”

Councillor Helen Fearon said:  ” Prior to this meeting I received many suggestions for improvements to the roundabout from local residents who use it on a regular basis and I am delighted that these received such a positive response from the Highways Agency.  Agreement was reached on a number of potential improvements, particularly about guidance to drivers concerning their choice of traffic lanes and general routeing through the roundabout. I look forward to those improvements materialising so that drivers will find their use of Kemplay Bank less difficult and troublesome.”

cumbria young chef competition

Rory  is “delighted” to be judging the final of the ‘Leading Hotels of Cumbria Young Chef Competition’ at Augill Castle, Kirkby Stephen on 4th February. Local schoolgirls Fiona Lambert and Bethany Woof, both from Kirkby Stephen Grammar School, are preparing to go head to head in the final stage of the competition, hosted and sponsored by Simon and Wendy Bennett of Augill Castle. The aim of the event is to help raise aspirations and awareness of training and career opportunities in the food industry, whilst inspiring and
engaging talented young people to retain their skills in Cumbria.

Fiona and Bethany have already completed four rigorous rounds of testing, competing against other Year 9/10 pupils (14/15 year olds) from the three schools involved – Appleby Grammar School, Kirkby
Stephen Grammar School and Ullswater Community College.

Rory said: “I am very much looking forward to judging this event. It is fantastic to see so many talented and enthusiastic individuals from our region taking up this important opportunity, and to see local businesspeople taking the initiative in highlighting the importance of apprenticeships in the hospitality industry, which is the backbone of our tourism industry. Fiona and Bethany should feel very proud of themselves for getting this far, and I am looking forward to sampling their cooking, and the
exciting results.”

For the final heat the girls will be cooking a three course meal of their choice for four people with a budget of £20. Families and friends will also be able to attend. The final competition winner will land the title of ‘The Leading Hotels of Cumbria Young Chef 2012’, along with a summer placement at the multi-award winning Gilpin Lodge Hotel, a full set of chef’s whites and a competition trophy.

Both Fiona and Bethany will receive a goody bag and a full set of chef’s knives for their excellent culinary efforts.

Cumbria Tourism Chairman Eric Robson, one of the competition’s judges, said: “The girls have done a fantastic job and I hope they have enjoyed themselves – the judges certainly have enjoyed sampling their
efforts! I hope this experience inspires other young people to get involved in next year’s competition.”

The competition is sponsored by six award-winning Cumbrian hotels, all of which are passionate about what they do: Augill Castle (lead sponsors), based near Kirkby Stephen, The Cottage in the Wood near Keswick, Gilpin Lodge in Windermere, Lovelady Shield Country House Hotel in Alston, Overwater Hall near Ireby and Temple Sowerby Country House Hotel near Penrith.

Wendy Bennett, lead sponsor of the competition from Augill Castle said: “Although only in its first year, the competition has been a real success and it’s been great fun to be a part of it. We hope this experience will encourage all participants to consider careers in some of Cumbria’s best kitchens.”

Next year’s Leading Hotels of Cumbria Young Chef Competition is due to kick off very soon and it is hoped will be extended to South Lakeland Schools.

save our high streets

Rory has made a speech in the House of Commons proposing a fresh approach to saving our town centres and high streets. He argued that high streets had been let down, across the country, by a lack of vision, of support and leadership. He criticised the impact of giant super-markets and out of town centres on market towns and communities and called for directly elected mayors to provide leadership in the fight for high streets.


The House of Commons Debate followed the recent publication of Mary Portas’ government-commissioned review on the future of high streets. Rory touched upon the importance of free parking in town centres and cutting red tape for traders and shopkeepers. But he focused particularly on the importance of the high street as a place – unlike the home or office – as a place where communities are built. He called on measures to give councils the confidence and financial backing to challenge super-markets.


Rory’s speech lamented the imposition of super-markets on Penrith against the wishes of residents, and spoke of “the beautiful symmetry and assymetry of the sandstone of Appleby, its moot hall, and market cross” as a symbol of all that was valuable in high streets and market towns not just for Cumbria but for Britain as a whole.

Flood Action

Rory attended the Pooley Bridge and Dacre Flood Action Group multi-agency meeting on Friday 20th January 2012 at Pooley Bridge Village Hall, in a well-attended event that included residents and representatives from the Environment Agency, Lake District National Park Authority, Cumbria Highways, Eden District Council, United Utilities and Ullswater Steamers. During the meeting the MP undertook to take the Action Group’s suggestions on flood insurance for at-risk homeowners to Minister Richard Benyon ahead of the culmination at the end of 2013 of the existing Statement of Principles between government and the insurance industry.

The group discussed the issues of house insurance, flood prevention measures, funding for flood prevention in rural areas, and other concerns about gulley and pavement sweeping and the ongoing maintenance of street drainage.

Rory said: “This has been an excellent meeting that has attracted an incredible cross-section of local agencies, all of whom have an interest in the long-term protection of Pooley Bridge against damaging floods such as those in 2005 and 2009. I would like to thank John Beer and the residents of Pooley Bridge for inviting me along. I have taken away valuable information about the great need for flexibility and co-operation from the agencies who operate in the area, and am also grateful for Mr Beer’s report on flood insurance, which I shall be taking to the Minister, Richard Benyon. I also hope to invite the Minister to visit Cumbria in the near future, and will ensure that I use Pooley Bridge as a case study to show what needs to be done for rural communities at risk of flooding.”

The British High Street

Some policies seem destined to fail. Governments have tried to save our High Streets for decades. They have experimented with parking, and with rates, and with planning regulations. And the result has been catastrophe. We have gone from 43,000 butchers in 1950 to 10,000 fifty years later; from 41,000 greengrocers to 10,000. The number of bakers is now a quarter of what it used to be; the number of fishmongers, a fifth. And supermarkets now account for 93 per cent of groceries sold in the UK.

It reminds me of our policy against Somali pirates. We are told that it is vital for the national interest to stop piracy. There are seven UN resolutions calling for action, and three separate multilateral naval task forces sail out to fight them. And after all this work, there were more attacks, and we paid more ransom last year, than in any previous year. It seems that, for whatever reason, Somali pirates are too difficult for us – and High Streets sometimes seem the same. As with any such failure, it is partly because you are facing almost irresistible historical forces – and partly because there is a limit to what we are prepared to do to stop them.

The House of Commons debated how to save the British High Street again this week. It was not a party political debate – there were no whips, no party lines, not even a vote. And certainly no reporters in the gallery. But it was immensely popular: nearly sixty MPs put down to speak (I bobbed up and down for nearly five hours before I was called). My father, who often complains about “professional politicians, who have never done anything else”, would have been surprised by the speakers. Those from the new 2010 intake alone included shopkeepers, farmers, architectural planners, and GPs, and two MPs who were over sixty when first elected. The Minister described the problems of opening his own small print shop. The member for Fylde reflected on 15 years in high street retail and the problems posed by charity shops. The member for Cleethorpes explained – on the basis of 24 years of experience trying to lead urban regeneration – how grand phrases like “a visionary, strategic, and strong operational team” are dissolved in the realities of planning, traffic and parking. The debate was informed, and realistic. But also a depressing reminder of how little progress we are making in saving the High Streets.

It can seem an almost impossible fight, because the market pressures, which favour large out of town stores, are so powerful. Large retailers choose to be out of town because they can get better space for their products, better parking, and good night-time delivery. Customers often find large stores an easier and preferable shopping experience. And it is not simply about parking or price: out of town retailers often provide an enormous range of products, and display them very attractively. These near universal forces push aside the most determined resistance – they have undermined not just the markets of Penrith and Surrey but also the covered bazaars of Iran and the main streets of rural Massachusetts – and by almost exactly the same means. But they have also brought us a choice of goods unimaginable in any other context. When my neighbour’s American mother married a Cumbrian in the 1950s, she could only get olive oil in the chemist in Penrith in a miniature bottle, as medicine. Today, the Co-op seems to stock half a dozen varieties of ‘extra virgin’. (I’m not going to try to count the range in Booth’s).

If we are serious about defeating a force so powerful, so motivated, and so insidious, we need to make very difficult choices and sacrifices. It is not simply that councils would have to forego parking charges, or residents put up with night-time deliveries in the high street, or landlords be forced to let empty properties. Councils would have to be willing to turn down the huge sums offered by supermarkets, and to take the financial risk of being sued. We would need very determined local leaders (perhaps only directly elected mayors would have the status, the confidence, and the support). And Mary Portas, whose recent report is perhaps the most considered and provocative analysis of this problem, says that her instinct was to recommend, across the country, an “immediate moratorium” on any new out-of-town developments.

It is not easy to defend such a policy. All the arguments of price, market competition, choice, and money, favour the out-of-town retailers – against the “inconvenience and cost” of town centres. But however difficult a High Street is to defend, we should fight, because they matter to us in a way that Somali piracy does not. A High Street matters because it makes citizens. It offers, almost uniquely, somewhere quite different from the workplace and the home: a civic space, which is neither about business nor about privacy – a public space in which the individual rubs shoulders with fellow citizens, often half-known or unknown. From those innumerable miniature exchanges of advice and wisdom, on greens, or market squares, in the walk from the grocers to the newsagents, are woven the warp and weft of a community.

Some might think this is an old-fashioned rural view and that I have been mesmerised by the varied sandstone avenue that leads from Appleby castle to the market cross. But I’d say it may be even more important in places without a medieval centre. The reason that sixty colleagues from Dudley to Bracknell to Swindon pushed to speak this week is that they too sense how our High Streets create, and shape, a local identity, which is perhaps the most powerful and precious part of any identity.


Woodland Trust

Rory met with Heather Swift, site manager, and Lee Bruce of the Woodland Trust at Miltonrigg Woods near Brampton on Friday, to discuss the charity’s work in woodland conservation and its plans to pay tribute to Her Majesty The Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee this year with the planting of 6 million native trees in the UK.

Rory arranged the visit to Miltonrigg ahead of the next meeting of his own forestry and woodlands ‘think-tank’, which will meet on Friday January 20th to discuss the interim progress report from the Independent Panel on Forestry. At Miltonrigg, Rory learned of the Woodland Trust’s work in restoring ancient woodlands, encouraging habitat regeneration and working with local environmental groups and landowners, and pledged to help locate sites for the Trust’s Diamond Jubilee initiative to plant 6 million native trees to celebrate the milestone event this year.

Rory said: “Miltonrigg Woods are a great example of the Woodland Trust’s work in native woodland conservation, which I wholeheartedly endorse. They take an intuitive approach to the layout of their woods, reflecting its heritage and its native habitat. There are some particularly stunning birch and oak trees here. I am also delighted to be supporting them this year in particular, when the spotlight will once again be on our forests and woodlands and the importance of public access and education. Their work is an inspiration to me, and I personally will do all I can to help find sites for Diamond Woods in Penrith and the Border; it would be wonderful if one of the 60 Diamond Woods could have its home here in Cumbria.”

Lee Bruce for The Woodland Trust said: “The trees and woods that we intend to plant will both celebrate the Diamond Jubilee and establish a living legacy for generations to come. At the pinnacle of the project will be the creation of 60 very special Diamond Woods of at least 60 acres, each representing a year of Her Majesty’s reign. A feature on each of these woods will be included in a commemorative report to The Queen and the Government at the end of the project. There will also be hundreds of smaller Jubilee Woods created and community tree plantings across the country. Most of the woods will receive funding from  the Forestry Commission’s standard English Woodland Grant Scheme and some will be almost fully funded by additional contributions from the  ‘quality of place’ element.”

Picture below.  Heather Swift, Rory and Lee Bruce at Miltonrigg Woods