Monthly Archives: April 2014


Rory Stewart’s four-year campaign to obtain funding for a lift and improved disabled access at Penrith station has won through, with today’s confirmation that the Depatment for Transport is to include the vital upgrades in the current tranche of Access for All funding, from 2014 to 2019. The victory is the result of intense lobbying efforts by the local MP, including numerous meetings with rail companies, Ministers and West Coast franchise bidders, a site visit to the station with Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin, and the initiation one year ago of a well-attended Parliamentary debate on disabled access.

Currently, the station remains without northbound access for wheelchairs and other users, even though the station receives fourteen booked requests for disabled assistance per day and many more unbooked. Passengers are forced to be guided across the extremely dangerous and outdated barrow crossing. The station upgrades will be included in the current spend, however it is not yet known when the work will begin.

Rory Stewart MP said: “I am thrilled with the news that we have, at last, been recognised by the Department for Transport to receive Access for All funding to make these hugely overdue improvements to our local station. This is a win for Penrith, and I would like to sincerely thank all of the constituents who have sent in stories to help bolster our case, and the local councillors and residents who have supported me, and of course Virgin Trains for being strongly supportive of our campaign and for the exellent service their staff continue to provide at Penrith.”

Penrith Councillor John Thompson, who has assisted on the campaign, said: “This is absolutely marvellous. Greater disabilityaccess for the northbound platform is something Penrith station has needed for many years. This long-awaited decision will ensure the station can now cater for everyone, and local people really will be delighted.”

Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport, said: “Rory has campaigned tirelessly for this important project and deserves great credit for ensuring it was properly considered for funding. I visited the station with Rory last year and saw for myself the access issues; I am glad that significant improvements will now be made.”



Rory’s campaign for more direct support for Upland Farmers
has received a boost from Natural England’s announcement of a
£26/hectare increase in direct payments.This increase will
significantly increase the income for upland farms.  It follows on
from the MP’s long-standing battle to save ‘small family farms’ which
have been rapidly vanishing over the last two decades due to market
and environmental pressures on farmers.

The MP for Penrith and The Border, who represents the constituency
with the highest percentage of uplands land in England and is a member
of the hill-farming APPG, has welcomed the news that farmers who
operate within the moorland line will receive an increase. Rory has
for months been lobbying Ministers and the Secretary of State Owen
Paterson for this recognition, which will see farmers working in some
of the country’s toughest and most unforgiving terrains benefit from
the increase. The moorland payment will be increased to approx £56/ha
under the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) from 2015 and the moorland
rate will increase by approximately 90 per cent to €70/hectare, with
the Severely Disadvantaged Area (SDA) and lowland rates set at

Rory Stewart said: “Our farmers operating within the moorland line and
working some of the toughest land in the country perform an incredible
role not only in producing food, but continuing their age-old function
of managing our habitat and maintaining the landscape that is so
central to this part of the country. By transferring funds from Entry
Level Stewardship schemes to Single Farm Payments there will however
be less money for commoning farmers, so we need to ensure that active
commoners continue to be properly rewarded for the work they do, too.”

Owen Paterson said: “Moorland farmers play a vital role in managing
some our most treasured landscapes. This payment increase will help
farmers maintain our moorlands and deliver a significant boost for
tourism and the rural economy in these areas.”


Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and The Border will be co-hosting a
Google ‘juice-bar’ event in Penrith in May to provide local businesses
with a masterclass in using the internet to boost growth.

Rory is encouraging all local business owners and aspiring
entrepreneurs to take part in the free event, which will take place at
Rheged on Friday 9th May at 1230pm. It will be a unique opportunity to
meet Google, who will be offering advice and tips on making the most
of the internet and growing online businesses. Any kind of business
can take advantage of the workshop and benefit, with recent research
showing digital businesses in Penrith and Appleby already beginning to
contribute to the local economy, with plenty of room to grow. Research
from NIESR (The National Institute of Economic and Social Research)
recently estimated that Penrith and Appleby already has 124 digital
companies, employing nearly 3,000 people.

Rory said: “I’m excited to welcome Google to Penrith and The Border
and to co-host a brilliant event that will help give people the tools
to make the most of the super-fast broadband that we are bringing to
Cumbria. Encouraging local businesses to flourish is something that is
very, very important to me, and is one of the major reasons for the
strength of our broadband campaign here in Penrith and The Border in
particular, where smaller internet-based businesses are the future of
our local economy. It is clear that a strong online presence is
crucial for companies to grow, and I hope that the local business
community will take advantage of this opportunity to attend the
session and receive expert advice from Google. I look forward to
seeing many friends and colleagues from the constituency there.”

Dan Cobley, Managing Director, Google UK, said: “Research from a
Boston Consulting Group report found that small businesses actively
using the Internet can grow eight times faster than those companies
with no web presence. Our goal is to get businesses of all sizes to
understand the importance of the Internet and how easy it is to get
online and contribute to the overall growth of their enterprise and
the local economy. We hope that local businesses in and around London
will take advantage of these free digital sessions.”

The Juice Bar has been designed to support and advise businesses
regardless of their technical expertise – from complete tech novices
creating their first website, through to harnessing the potential of
social media and online marketing. The workshop is part of Google’s
drive to help small businesses grow using the internet and to help
business owners harness new ‘e-skills.’ So far over 250,000 businesses
have been helped through the programme. By encouraging and supporting
a variety of businesses to use the internet effectively, from
entrepreneurs and one-man-band start-ups, to larger companies, these
workshops aim to boost the country’s internet economy.

Businesses in the area can sign up for the free consultations and
workshops at 12:30pm on Friday 9th May at the Rheged Centre in

To book, simply follow the link below:


Rory Stewart is calling on all secondary schools in Penrith and The Border to get involved in a new competition about addressing poverty worldwide.

The Shape the Future competition, calls on young people from across the country to outline and present their ideas for the future of the Millennium Development Goals. This year the competition will ask young people to outline and present their priorities for improving the lives of women and girls worldwide. All secondary schools will be invited to take part, with the contest aimed at pupils between the ages of 11 and 16. Finalists will be invited to present their ideas at a youth event in the run up to the Girl Summit 2014 which the Prime Minister is hosting in London on July 22nd. The Girl Summit will focus on tackling FGM (female genital mutilation) and CEFM (child, early and forced marriage) at home and overseas.

Rory said: “This competition presents a unique opportunity to engage young people in girls’ and women’s issues and make their voices heard. It also represents an opportunity to give children in our schools the chance to voice their ideas on the excellent development work the UK is doing around the world, with the aim of improving lives globally. I really do hope that we can get some of our local schools to show the rest of the UK the breadth and depth of talent that Penrith and The Border’s young people have to offer, and display our awareness of the need to invest in the developing world as a means of improving global opportunities for all of us.”

More information on the competition can be found online by visiting:


Between the absurd and the wonderful

This land was first turned from bog into farmland in the 12th century. The medieval monks cut drains, burnt back reeds and choked the sphagnum moss, to create rough pasture. By the nineteenth century, it had become a landscape of hawthorn hedges and oak avenues, cut with rich soil. Now, on the field edge, the whitened trunks of the oaks were drowning in three feet of standing water. My companion was ‘turning the clock back’.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds began buying the farmland near Bowness on Solway in 1988. In Cumbria, they also acquired a cliff-habitat for sea-birds; an artificial reservoir for lake-birds; and sections of high and low fell. Half a mile from us, on the estuary, were half a million wintering waders, ‘bar-tailed godwits, black-tailed godwits, golden plovers, grey plover, ring plover, oyster catchers, dunlins, turnstones.’ When they bought this land, it was a dry heath, cracked into deep gullies, and filled with cattle. They began by blocking the old header-drains, and used the remaining pipes, not to drain but to flood. The initial aim was to make sure that you could push a six-inch nail easily into the soil. “That tells you how easy it would be for a wading bird to probe its beak in to find food.”

But different birds needed different wetness of ground. Snipe preferred a wet rushy habitat with a few dry bits to lay their eggs on. Lapwings, however, wanted closely cropped sward and drier conditions. “But they do like the odd tussock dotted about, that they can get tucked behind, to hide. And small pools with lots of muddy edge so the chicks can get to it and feed.” Redshank tended to prefer it “more tussocky with more clumps of rush: but not wall to wall rush.”

Getting the right length of sward for the lapwings required keeping their own flock of sheep, contracting with nine different graziers, and experimenting with native breed cattle. Every August the grazing was supplemented by machine-cutting, and an artificial raising of the water-level. “If you can get the water just above the cut stems of rush, it tends to kill them off, but it’s an art in itself timing it just right.’ Curlew wanted intact mires. He took me out into the bog. “What we’re standing on here, is something like ninety-five percent water. Milk’s got more solids than this.’

Bogs don’t have a good name – our Northumbrian ancestors put monsters like Grendel in such places. The Border reiving clans used the bogs or mosses as a hiding place and a trap for their enemies. They called themselves ‘moss-troopers.’ For centuries, they had cut long paths and ditches into the wet ground, to extract peat for fuel, and then allowed the vegetation to hide the paths, and twenty-foot deep ditches. In the centre of the mosses, lay deep ponds covered in small rafts of floating sphagnum. Unwary pursuers could be lost in the bog. “We’re alright while we’re just treading carefully but I’ve had animals– cattle: they’ve got out onto the bog about thirty yards, and they’re just thrown. They start sinking up to their bellies. There was one in particular, it just wouldn’t move. We had to drag it.”

But my companion saw the bog as a paradise. “About ninety-four percent of our lowland raised mires have disappeared, so we’re just working with the last six percent.” He showed me the bog asphodel, the stag’s horn lichen, and the white beak-sedge – “one of the foods of the large heath butterfly”. He pointed to the round-leafed sundew: “because this habitat’s so nutrient-poor, it has to supplement its diet by catching flies. So these little sticky tendrils on the leaves: the fly lands on that and it catches the fly and slowly absorbs the nutrients from it.”

His favourite plant was the bog rosemary. “When I first came here and started monitoring the site I found five plants of bog rosemary in a whole day of searching. Now we’ve just mapped its distribution right across the bog. It’s just so beautiful. If I’m doing surveys at night when everything’s out, I just crush that up and rub it over my face. Just break it up and crush it,” he encouraged me, “have a whiff. It keeps the insects off to a certain degree. I wouldn’t say that it’s as good as the juice you get in a can but the next best thing.”

Now he wanted to extend the bogs. “Given time, when we’ve got the nutrient levels down, tried to get rid of some of the phosphates, the sphagnum moss will come back, which enables the peat to grow, and then that’ll eat up more of the nutrients, and you’ll eventually get bog flora starting to come through.’ This would provide even more space for the curlews.

“Amazing. And how long do you think that will take?”

“I’m not going to see it.”

“You’re not going to see it?”

“No. No one really knows. I mean, a lot of what we’re doing here is quite groundbreaking.…there’s been some remarkable changes in that fifteen years but nothing suggesting we’re getting much closer to creating ideal conditions for bog flora. So, fifty years maybe?”

Decades of flooding, mowing, grazing, and monitoring had transformed the eight hundred year-old agricultural landscape and produced sixty-five pairs of wading birds across the thousand acre site.
“When we moved here twenty-two years ago we didn’t have any. Zero to sixty-five over the years,’ he said with pride, ‘everywhere else in the country is going down.” There seemed to be something very British about the project – teetering between the absurd and the wonderful.


At a specialist small business finance meeting in Penrith in March, Rory Stewart MP launched a new programme aimed at facilitating financial support for local businesses from local investors. Rory arranged the meeting, which brought together representatives of business, the financial sector, the voluntary sector and local government, to highlight the continuing financing difficulties faced by many small businesses, and to discuss some potential approaches to the problem.

Rory has now outlined the provision of a new survey platform – the ‘Cumbria Business Finance Network’ – and online tool that allows potential borrowers and lenders to register their interests in participating in a new ‘Cumbria Business Investment Fund’, which would aim to provide a mechanism for local business investment into local businesses. The feedback from the Business Finance Network will play an important role in guiding the design of the Investment Fund, with the intention of finding the best possible match between unfulfilled financing needs and potential funding sources.

Rory said: “I am very excited to launch this survey tool, bringing us closer to getting down to the detail of small business needs, and matching these to the desires of local investors. The Business Finance Network will play a very important role in helping us to understand the genuine needs of the sorts of businesses that characterise rural Cumbria, and the ways in which the broader local community may be able to play a role in providing support; and I would strongly encourage any small business which has experienced financing difficulties, or any investor with an interest in the local economy, to join in and share their views. Your feedback will be critical to the design of the Business Investment Fund which we are hoping it may be feasible to launch later in the year.”

Further details of the Cumbria Business Finance Network can be found at



Please note that local MP for Penrith and the Border Rory Stewart will
be holding open ‘street surgeries’ at the following locations during April:

Tuesday 22nd April – Penrith street surgery outside George Hotel – 1230-1330pm

Tuesday 22nd April – Brampton street surgery outside Moot Hall – 1500-1600pm
No appointment is necessary, and all constituents are welcome. More
information can be found at

For more information please call 01768 484 114.

Parliamentary Scrutiny and Foreign Intervention

This is a dangerous moment. For a dozen years, Britain over-intervened, spending tens of billions of pounds in Iraq and Afghanistan on missions that were often not only unwise, but also impossible. Now we risk the opposite mistake: pursuing a policy of inaction and isolation – lurching from over-confidence to despair. Military intervention can work and is sometimes necessary. But if Britain is to act with confidence again, parliament must ask some uncomfortable questions about our past performance.

This is not easy. Soldiers risking their lives don’t want to be second-guessed by politicians. MPs are willing to acknowledge that a hospital has failed, and demand reform. But they are nervous about doing the same for a military mission, partly because no one wants to suggest that troops have died in vain. (Although it was very clear by early 2007, that things were going wrong in Helmand, it was not until 2011 that parliament found itself able to point this out, quite gently).

Parliamentary oppositions still often intone: ‘we will never criticise the government when there are troops on the ground.’ Instead Parliament has frequently preferred to side with Generals, and call only for more defence spending, more equipment, and more troops. This allows it to ask the government questions which seem bold and critical, but which in fact leave the fundamental mission and strategy unexamined, and unchallenged. This is nothing new. Palmerston tried to deny the disaster in Afghanistan in 1842, and suggest all criticism was unpatriotic. MPs shied away from acknowledging the catastrophes of Crimea and the Boer War. But this lack of scrutiny and challenge is one of the reasons why Britain has often learned the wrong lessons, and been badly prepared for the next conflict.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, we should now be clear that Britain designed the wrong army for the wrong campaign. For over a decade we devoted ourselves to ‘nation-building’ and ‘counter-insurgency’. But we never had the tour-lengths, the deep country knowledge, or support to succeed in ‘nation-building’; and ‘counter-insurgency’ was doomed because we lacked the control of the borders, the local support, or a legitimate and credible government in Kabul. Nation-building under fire – in the context of an insurgency – has never worked, anywhere. But we kept trying to do it. This may feel like ‘yesterday’s story’ but it is shockingly recent.

Here are some questions parliament might have asked but didn’t: ‘General McChrystal, you say that your counter-insurgency strategy will only work if the Afghan government sorts its act out. What are the chances of that?’ “Minister you say you support a ‘gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic, centralised state, based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law’. Is there anyone in your team who could translate that into language which an Afghan villager might understand?”

Even today we are yet to ask. ‘How did we get it so wrong? Why did no-one see that the mission was internally inconsistent, largely irrelevant to national security, and impossible to achieve? Why did we ignore the critics? Why did we promote officers and officials who were consistently wrong? What reforms have we introduced to recruitment, training, promotion, tour-lengths, and activities to prevent future mistakes? Were we surprised that Putin invaded Ukraine? Why? What reforms are we introducing to stop similar surprises in the future? What more can we learn from the US about the coordination of cyber-defence?

Parliament could also be better at analysing our successes. Bosnia was – for all its flaws – a miracle. We went into a country where a hundred thousand people had been killed, where a million had lost their homes, and where hundreds of thousands of armed men had divided the country, under the control of war criminals. We ended the war, without the loss of any British or American lives. Within ten years, a million properties had been returned, the number of armed men was down to a few thousand, the check-points had gone, the war criminals were in the Hague, and the crime rate was lower than Sweden. Parliament should have asked the right questions about this success, and encouraged us to follow that model again.

Finally, we need to remember that parliament can sometimes get it very right. In May 1940, while we were being humiliated by the Germans in Norway, a highly decorated colonel on the back-benches, Sir Arnold Wilson, made an eloquent speech defending the armed forces, and calling on colleagues not to criticise the high command. He suggested that parliament’s role was to provide generous support, resources, and encouragement for the armed forces, and let the commanders get on with their job. Parliament ignored this plea for support, attacked the entire strategy, and highlighted all the failures. By doing so, they forced Chamberlain to resign, and ultimately gave Britain a chance of winning the war.

Nothing is ultimately more damaging to the military than absence of criticism. Officers need and expect debate, and challenge. Neither they, nor we benefit from a polite establishment consensus. If parliament begin to ask the right questions and focus in the right way, it could help Britain become more not less engaged again. It could remind us that we can still defend our interests, and influence crises, in Eastern Europe or the Middle East.

Over-intervention and under-intervention are two sides of the same insecurity. A more critical approach, will lead to a more confident and serious approach. This will rely on service personnel, diplomats, and intelligence officers. But it will also require a parliament prepared to keep on asking some very difficult questions both about our recent failures, and about the world ahead.