Sunbeams Patron and Penrith and The Border MP Rory Stewart on Friday joined Annie Mawson, Founder of Sunbeams Music Trust, and her team at the Redhills site of their £2m new music therapy building, to officially launch the 35-week construction of the long-awaited and richly-deserved centre. The project is the culmination of many years of dedicated fundraising by Annie and her hard-working team, and will bring to Cumbria one of the most state-of-the-art buildings in the country, including performance areas, training rooms, a recording studio, music therapy rooms, and a sensory garden. Situated just off the A66 between Rheged and the Redhills Centre, the building will conform to the highest standards and will be an incredibly rich resource for disabled people of all ages and from all walks of life.
Rory has been a strong advocate for the local charity since election in 2010, supporting it with its ongoing fundraising initiative and acting as a spokesperson to draw attention to its work. He said: “This is incredibly exciting, and I have to say that Annie is amazing: her energy, determination, and dedication is immense. She never gives up. It has been truly humbling to see what Sunbeams have managed to achieve in terms of fundraising for this magnificent project. What is incredible is that they have achieved this whilst carrying out their existing work, making a real difference to so many lives by delivering their Music for Life programme to thousands each year. We should all take heart from Annie and her team’s work, and know that when we dedicate ourselves to a dream, it really can become reality.”
Annie Mawson said: “We are so thrilled to have Rory’s support and want to thank him for everything he has done for us in the past. Today is a day I knew would come eventually. I am so excited that we are now able to start to realise the dreams and aspirations of so many. It has been a long and sustained battle to get to this point, with many tears along the way, but I know that when we open our building it will be so very worthwhile.”
Rory Stewart MP is in discussions with Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, about the “intolerable” situation regarding school transport for 16-18 year olds in Cumbria. The MP in discussions raised the importance and uniqueness of Cumbrian needs, and pressed her to make sure that Cumbria’s needs would be considered in the next comprehensive spending review. The MP has also been lobbying Minister Edward Timpson directly, and is pressing for assurances from the DfE that it will take seriously the cases of many disadvantaged families in communities across Cumbria, who have faced annual transport bills of a minimum of £360 as a result of the Cumbria County Council Lib Dem-Labour coalition measures, leaving households poorer, and children across the county forced to take sometimes irregular and unsafe modes of transport, placing them in a vulnerable position.
Rory Stewart said: “This is an intolerable situation. I am pressing the Secretary of State to make allowances for Cumbria’s very unique rural needs, which mean that school transport is neither cheap nor regular, and this policy is placing an immense burden on families. I have made recommendations directly to the SoS to assess Cumbria’s status and recognise its needs in the comprehensive spending review. We need to look at measures to mitigate the impact of this ill thought out policy.”
Rory Stewart MP on Friday spent time with Wigton’s Nelson Thomlinson School’s Young Enterprise group of Year 12 students, who presented to him their ‘Cumbria Unwrapped’ product of edible products from the Cumbria. The enterprising students have identified a gap in the market for packaging Cumbrian-produced products in gift hampers presented on local pieces of slate, and are focusing on produce from areas that do not traditionally attract tourists to the Lake District region.
Rory said: “The Cumbria Unwrapped team have identified a real niche, and have developed and promoted their product in a very impressive, energetic way. They are right to focus on products from the parts of Cumbria that can sometimes be overlooked by visitors. This is all about creating a product that shows the diversity and ingenuity of Cumbrian food and gift producers, wherever they are based, and I wish Lauren and her team very well with their project.”
Lauren Spowart, Managing Director, said: “We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to meet Rory and discuss our project with him, creating an insightful and engaging conversation. For Rory to come to Wigton to visit was an exciting experience for us and has really inspired us to continue with our business endeavour. We hope that Rory enjoys his ‘Cumbrian Treats’ gift!”
Rory’s visit once again focused on the importance of giving young people a platform to engage in business, coinciding with news that the number of Penrith and The Border workplaces employing apprentices increased by almost 40% between 2010 and 2013. The figures suggest that Government reforms have helped make apprenticeships both simpler for businesses, and more attractive as an option for young people.
Rory Stewart MP pictured with (L-R): Alex Herbert (Head of Human Resources), Ross Ferguson (IT), Darius Kent (Finance Director), Bryony Whitehead (Assistant Director) and Lauren Spowart (Managing Director)
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border, Conservative)
I will try to speak quite briefly. I pay a huge tribute to everyone involved for the way that this debate has been conducted. There has been a very good debate in the House of Lords, some very serious work by the Defence Committee since 2005 and the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot). In particular, I wish to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) who has put an enormous amount of energy, thought and focus into getting these very specific amendments in place.
Broadly speaking, the Defence Committee is very positively disposed towards the Bill, as it reflects its work since 2005 and is a huge improvement even on where we were in 2008. The commissioner has gone from being a three-day-a-week job to a full-time job, and gone from having nine staff to 20 staff. The scope and the powers of the ombudsman will be massively expanded, and all of that is good. However, there is a “but”, and it is that “but” on which we want to focus for a brief moment.
We are not, I hope, being pedantic. It is an important point because this is an unbelievably complex area of legislation. It is easy for people to turn up and try to suggest that the way that the armed forces are treated should be the same as the way that civilians are treated. Clearly, the contexts are completely different. Military discipline is very different from civilian discipline. Many of the criminal Acts that apply to military personnel simply do not apply to civilian personnel. Military personnel live under completely different conditions from civilian personnel in terms of their housing, health, non-union status, 24/7 jobs, and risk to life and limb, all of which put an incredible onus on the Defence Committee and on the Government to get this kind of ombudsman right.
The problems that we have had from the start of this debate are twofold. First, there has been a very strong degree of abstraction. Understandably, people have been very reluctant to talk about concrete examples. When taking testimony in the Defence Committee, it was very striking that almost nobody mentioned the Deepcut case. Much of the conversation around this matter is taking place in a vacuum without people using individual examples. The second problem has been a very comfortable consensus. We have a strange situation in which, when we were taking testimony, there was very little push-back from the chain of command and from Ministers, but now we find that the Committee’s recommendations are not being accepted, and we have no clear sense of why that is. The oddity is that there is a basic disagreement between liberty and the chain of command, but that disagreement is not really brought out in public, which is another reason why this Chamber seems to be so empty.
When we have private conversations with people, we realise that the disagreement is really profound. In a private conversation, some human rights lawyers will say that they disapprove of the entire military system and that things that can happen to military personnel would not be acceptable for civilian personnel. Equally, outside this Chamber in private conversations, we might hear retired generals in the House of Lords rejecting the idea of the ombudsman completely. Curiously, in the case of the Committee testimony, there was very much a push towards consensus that papered over some fundamental principled disagreements.
The five principles that the Committee focused on are: independence, flexibility, the scope of the ombudsman, the power of the ombudsman and the transparency of the ombudsman’s findings. On independence, the Defence Committee suggested that nobody who had been a member of the armed forces within the previous five years would be suitable for appointment; that the term of appointment should be between five and seven years, as three years was too short for someone to get their feet under the desk and really understand the job; and that the job should not be liable for reappointment. That is standard practice for such a role around the world. If somebody is up for reappointment, the tendency would be for them to pull their punches in order to get their job back.
On flexibility, we put a big focus on ensuring that there was more flexibility around timelines and procedural control. On scope, we pushed to ensure that any maladministration, the substance of the complaint and thematic issues could be addressed. Power has been another important point. What is going to be the power and how binding will those recommendations be? We went back and forth on that matter with my distinguished predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire. Finally, there is the issue of transparency, confidentiality and whether or not the Government can use national security to make the findings of the ombudsman confidential.
The odd position that the Defence Committee finds itself in is that the Government have said to us that, basically, they agree with almost everything that we say. In line after line in response to our recommendations, the Ministry of Defence comes back and says, “We agree, we agree, we agree, but we do not believe that this should be in the Bill.” Looking through the eight amendments proposed by the Defence Committee, there seems to be only one with which the Government have any in-principle disagreement, and that is on the question of thematic investigation. Government seem to be comfortable with the other seven.
Why is it then that the Government seem to agree with seven out of eight recommendations, but are not prepared to put them in the Bill? The answer appears to be that the Government believe that putting these things in the Bill would be over-prescriptive. Indeed the Government are attempting to elevate to a grand point of principle the idea that legislation should not be over-prescriptive. The Defence Committee respectfully argues back that those grand points of principle about what should or should not be prescriptive in legislation are marginal, if not irrelevant, to the specific Bill under consideration. One role on which we should be explicit is that of an ombudsman. The Government should put in the Bill the basic terms of independence.
There is no time here to go through every one of those eight recommendations, but let us take as an example the question of independence. The Defence Committee has stipulated that we believe that the person should be appointed on a non-renewable term for five to seven years, and that they should not have served in the armed forces in the previous five years. The Government accept those recommendations but will not put them in the Bill. Why not? Apparently, because they think it would be over-prescriptive to do so. However, this should be an easy concession for the Government to make. To have the point clearly stated would reassure the public and reinforce the credibility and independence of the ombudsman. In fact, not putting it in the Bill seems to be based on a very abstract and theoretical notion.
Our eight recommendations should be taken seriously because, bluntly, the Defence Committee is an elected Committee of the House of Commons. It is disappointing that, out of eight recommendations made by the Committee, the Government have inserted in the Bill not seven or five of them but none. No amendments went through in the House of Lords and no amendments appear to be proposed at this stage. Given that we are moving into a world where we have elected Committees, where we want these Committees to play a more active role and where every member of those Committees is elected, we would expect the Government to respond, at least in part, to the Committee’s recommendations, if for no other reason—this relates to the Geneva processes on the setting up of an ombudsman—than that we should follow the proper process of inclusion of stakeholders. The first Geneva principle is the inclusion of Parliament in this process. Even if the Government seem to have deep theoretical objections to the independence of the ombudsman, we believe that in this case, purely for procedural reasons, they should listen to the Defence Committee.
In conclusion, Parliament has been deeply involved in setting the rules for the military from the very beginning. It tightened up the articles of war in the 1660s and again in the mid-18th century. It loosened those articles of war in 1776, and it did so again after the first world war and in the 1950s and 2006. That is exactly the sort of thing that Parliament should be doing.
To get this right—and this is a very good opportunity for Britain to do so—we must do it in a way that is honest to our history, confident about the conceptual disagreements, and clear and precise about resolving the reality of the military justice system with the concerns of the rights community. That sounds jargony, but what I mean is that we need to be really clear that the military is different from civilian institutions. Various military criminal offences—such as mutiny, desertion and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline—do not exist in civilian life. At the same time, however, the right not to be bullied or harassed, as well as other rights, must be protected. Finally, if the Government can find a way of incorporating the Defence Committee’s recommendations, Britain has an opportunity to set a model for the world.
This has been a good process for the House of Lords and the Committee and because of the inclusion of Dr Susan Atkins. It has been a particularly good process because of the amount of energy the hon. Member for Bridgend has devoted to it from the beginning. Let us finish the process with as much positive spirit as we began it. I ask the Government to show some flexibility in their response to the independence, flexibility, scope, power and transparency of the ombudsman, as set out by the Defence Committee.
Rory Stuart (Penrith and The Border, Conservative)
It seems to me that the challenge in relation to the Chilcot inquiry is our inability in Britain to come to terms with failure, our inability to come to terms with what exactly went wrong with Iraq, and our inability to reform. As a result of all that, we have a real problem when it comes to acting in the world in the future. Unless we go through the process of coming to terms with who we are and how we got this wrong—whether through the Chilcot inquiry, through our Parliament, or by some other means—we will remain paralysed.
At present, Iraq is sitting like some rotting corpse in a cupboard, the nature of which we do not quite understand. We can see the consequences of that in the problems of British foreign and defence policy in the last 13 years. We can see the inability to come to terms with Iraq in our mistakes in Afghanistan. We can also see the inability to come to terms with Iraq in our current inaction. Britain is currently in a very paralysed state. There is a deep insecurity, and an anxiety. We are not pulling enough weight in NATO, and we are not pulling enough weight in the United Nations. We are failing to commit ourselves to spending 2% of our GDP on defence, which is symptomatic of our inability to come of terms with Putin or Ukraine.
All that brings us back to the four-letter word “Iraq”. Iraq has become, for us, a kind of Vietnam. It has become, in the British consciousness, something that we cannot get beyond, something that we cannot see through. The Chilcot report needs to be published to enable us in Britain to understand what happened in Iraq—understand exactly what happened in Iraq—to enable us to introduce the reforms that the Government need in order to be able to act again in the future, and to enable us to recover our confidence as a nation.
One of our problems with the debate, and, perhaps, with the Chilcot inquiry, has been that the understanding of what went wrong in Iraq is still too limited. We are still understandably obsessed with the legality of the war, and also with the issue of post-war planning. In Afghanistan we went into a war that was legal, in those terms, and in which, at least in Helmand, a great deal of planning took place; yet the results there were also a mess. In other words, the problem of Iraq cannot simply be reduced to legality and post-war planning. There is a deeper problem in Iraq, and the deeper problem in Iraq, with which I think we all struggle to deal, is a problem with ourselves. It is the problem of who Britain is, and what Britain does in the world. One way of expressing it is that we are failing to come to terms with our limits—the limits of our knowledge, the limits of our capacity, and the limits of our legitimacy.
Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
The hon. Gentleman has called for reflection. He may recall the reaction of the American ambassador, when he appeared on “Question Time” after 9/11, to some of the things that were being said to him. There seemed to be an inability to look in the mirror, and to see the effects of foreign policy in the west pre-9/11 in the form of some of the things that were happening in the world and the anger that was being created in the world. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his call for us to use a mirror to look at ourselves, and to look at ourselves very hard.
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border, Conservative)
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman in that I am calling for more confidence and more seriousness, not less. The problem with our interpretation of Iraq is that we have ended up with despair. This empty House, the lack of interest among journalists, and the general lack of focus on the issue imply that Britain wants to put this in the past—to put it in its history—and to behave as though it related to some other country and some other Government rather than to us.
The lessons of Iraq must be, among other things, lessons of seriousness. We are not serious, as a country. What Chilcot needs to focus on, above all, is our lack of seriousness on the ground—one problem with the Chilcot inquiry is that it did not spend enough time taking evidence from people who had operated in civilian roles in provincial areas—and that will involve our criticising ourselves in ways that we do not like to criticise ourselves. It will involve us, as a country, getting beyond our anxieties—and this is a very difficult thing to say—about soldiers dying in vain.
A soldier’s life cannot be held relative to the decisions of politicians. A soldier’s courage, a soldier’s sacrifice, is a commitment to his or her country. The danger of reducing every mistake that this country has made—from the Boer war to the Afghan war of 1842 to our recent debacle in Iraq—to the question of a soldiers’ life is that it stifles debate. No one can stand up and criticise what we did for fear that someone might say that soldiers died in vain.
Criticism begins with accepting that we were not serious enough in our commitment to Iraq. American soldiers did 13-month tours; why did we only do six-month tours? American civilians took leave once every six months; British diplomats took leave every six weeks, for two weeks. We remained highly isolated in compounds, under security restrictions which made it very difficult for us to engage with the local population. There was a serious failure to reach out to people who understood Iraq and the area. There was a lack of seriousness and commitment on the ground.
There was also an obsession with abstraction and jargon. We stood up in the House, and we stood up in the foreign service, talking all the time about “the rule of law”, “governance”, “civil society” and “human rights”. We had absolutely no idea how to relate that kind of jargon to the reality on the ground in Iraq. In fact, what we were doing, again and again, was using words that looked like a plan, but were simply a description of what we did not have. Every time we said that what we needed to bring to Iraq were “governance, the rule of law and security”, we were simply saying that Iraq was corrupt, unjust and violent. Every time we said that we needed to create transparent, predictable, accountable financial processes, we were simply saying what we did not have.
As we move forward, and as Chilcot—hopefully—helps us to come to terms with this catastrophe, we must reform, but what does reform mean? Reform means becoming serious. What I hope we can take from the Chilcot inquiry is that seriousness begins with investing in knowledge and understanding of other people’s countries. Where I differ, perhaps, from the Scottish nationalists is that I do not think that this means that the future for Britain is to become Denmark. I do not think that the future for Britain is to withdraw. I think that the future for Britain is to reach out, and to understand.
Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
I have got to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Denmark was once in the empire game, but historians have noted that Denmark withdrew itself from that. It is time for us to learn from Denmark.
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border, Conservative)
I understand absolutely that that is the hon. Gentleman’s position, but our position should be different, and this is where Britain differs from a country like Denmark. First, we should be investing in knowledge—investing in knowledge in the Foreign Office, which means ensuring that there are proper language allowances and that we dismantle the grisly core competency framework for promotion, and that we get out of the situation of there being only three out of 15 ambassadors in the middle east who can speak Arabic.
Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham, Conservative)
I do not know whether my hon. Friend remembers this, but in 2007 or 2008, I think, there were no fluent Pashto speakers across the Foreign Office, the MOD or DFID in Afghanistan.
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border, Conservative)
There were absolutely no fluent Pashto speakers, and only two operational Dari speakers in our embassy in Kabul.
We must also develop the habit of challenge.
George Galloway (Bradford West, Respect) I admire the hon. Gentleman, but as he is speaking I can almost see him in his pith helmet striding across the Punjab as a district commissioner in another era, and his remarks about Denmark compound that. He and I both know that we almost lost our own country just last September; we were almost severed—dismembered—because of the collapse in the credibility of the British political class, and I promise him that we are not going to get that back by being better imperialists than the last group of politicians.
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border, Conservative)
We will get it back by being serious again. We will get it back by showing the British public that we have acknowledged the failure and we have understood that failure—that we have learned the lessons and that we have reformed—and we will get it back by showing the superiority of Britain through a smaller conception of ourselves that is ultimately to do not with wearing pith helmets but with being an engaged global power. That does include, within the Ministry of Defence, having an ability to challenge ourselves, and having an ability, which we have lost in Iraq today, to provide an independent assessment of US missions. It includes, ultimately, our chiefs of staff recovering their confidence.
This is a good time to remember that, because I think where I and Opposition Members will agree is that on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau the conclusion that Britain should draw from Iraq is not one of isolation. It should not be that we should be doing nothing; it should instead be that we need to recover our confidence as a country—recover the confidence that we are the fifth largest economy in the world, that we have unique skills and expertise, that we have an enormous amount to contribute to the world—and that what we should take from the Chilcot inquiry is not despair or paralysis, but a need to recover our compassion, our common sense and our confidence.
Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport Sajid Javid has, on the occasion of formal confirmation of the broadband funding extension being granted to ensure that Cumbria continues to benefit from the Connecting Cumbria rollout, publicly thanked Penrith and The Border MP Rory Stewart for his efforts.
Sajid Javid MP said today: “I am delighted that Rory Stewart’s efforts on this issue have paid off, with the extension he has been campaigning for now having been put in place. This is great news for Cumbria, where superfast broadband will make such a difference, and is testament to hard work he has done.”
Speaking yesterday in a debate on Rural Phone and Broadband Connectivity, Rory – a relentless campaigner for better broadband in rural areas – once again championed technology as a vital tool to increase opportunities for Cumbrians, and was praised by other parliamentary colleagues for the pioneering work he has done throughout his time in Parliament.
Rory said: “Given that the fundamental challenge of rural areas is the barrier of distance, we must emphasise that there is nothing more powerful than the technology of broadband and mobile in overcoming that barrier and in bringing rural areas all the opportunities of networked lives. I am delighted that Cumbria’s broadband rollout can now continue throughout the year – rather than having to be wrapped up in the Spring in order to satisfy inflexible delivery and accounting deadlines. I don’t think people were quite aware of what we stood to lose, but thanks to the hard work of officials from various departments and the focus of BT and Connecting Cumbria, we have managed to supply the necessary detail to obtain this very, very crucial extension which will ultimately benefit all of Cumbria’s rural communities. We also have to thank our Secretary of State for grasping the serious importance of fixing this problem, and for acting in the best interests of Cumbria.”
During the debate Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Services, paid tribute to Rory’s work on broadband and said: “I pay tribute to Rory Stewart, for how since the moment he was first elected and arrived in this Chamber – and probably before that – he has taken seriously the need to get broadband to his rural constituents. It was a privilege to attend a conference that he organised for hundreds of people in Cumbria some years ago to highlight this problem.”
Penrith and The Border MP Rory Stewart on Saturday visited the Calvert Trust’s stables at the foot of Latrigg Fell near Keswick, to learn more about their BHS-approved riding establishment, which runs a range of outdoors trap and driving sessions, and indoor lessons, to aid people with disabilities who come from all over Cumbria and indeed the UK to use their facilities.
The local charity is desperately in need of more volunteers to help support their riding for the disabled programmes, and Rory visited to get a sense of their work and to raise awareness of their important campaign to try and recruit many more volunteers.
The Calvert Trust is renowned for its range of programmes offering people with disabilities the opportunity to take part in outdoor and active pursuits. It provides riding and trap driving outings, and grooming sessions, to both those with disabilities and their accompanying families and carers. Sessions run daily, however rely heavily on volunteers to help support riders, accompany the trap, escort the ride, and walk on ahead to traffic-watch. Volunteers may also help with grooming, tacking up and general yard work if they wish. The Calvert Trust undertake all vetting procedures – and cover those costs – and ensure that volunteers are well-trained before proceeding with their tasks.
Rory Stewart said: “Please consider applying to the Calvert Trust’s riding centre as a volunteer. It is a remarkably accessible place, even though it is in a beautiful rural setting, and would be a rewarding role for anyone with some time to spare and the energy to get involved. The Calvert Trust is a remarkable charity, and I admire its aims greatly. To see the hard work of Henri Carew and her team today has been a great privilege, and I strongly urge anyone with an interest, to get involved by contacting the Trust on 017687 72250.”
Volunteers must be at least 14 years of age, fit, and willing to be out in all weathers. Prospective volunteers will be invited for a session to assess their suitability, then serving a 6-month trial period. Basic training is given in session, and more extensive training is organised from time to time. Potential volunteers from Keswick, Penrith, Cockermouth, Workington, Whitehaven and beyond are called upon to get in touch.
Left to right: Centre Director Sean Day, Stables Manager Henri Carew, and Rory Stewart MP
Rory Stewart joined representatives from Cumbria County Council and BT’s Connecting Cumbria programme at the local squadron headquarters of the Air Training Corps at Appleby Grammar School on Saturday, where faster internet speeds will help with the delivery of the air cadets’ online training programme. The local MP spent time with the cadets to discover how their communication and management system – BADER – provides a SharePoint facility to distribute and store the many documents required to disseminate information to almost 1,000 squadrons nationally. Cadets also take various tests online to confirm their progress through the training programme.
Appleby now has two fibre-enabled cabinets up and running, meaning 591 premises can currently benefit if they make the move onto a fibre-based internet service. A further eight fibre cabinets are due to be deployed in and around the town by summer 2015. The investment in connecting the town to the fibre network will also benefit other communities along the A66 corridor who can tap into the new fibre connection. These include Kirkby Stephen, Kirkby Thore, Culgaith, Langwathby, Morland and Brough. Communities around Appleby including Colby, Brampton and Great Asby will also benefit from fibre for years to come after it is delivered in 2015.
Speaking at the event, Rory said: “We are the largest, most sparsely-populated constituency in Britain, and the fundamental barriers we face are of distance. This is what holds us back in terms of education, health and business. Broadband leaps those barriers and brings people closer together. I am seeing businesses completely transformed by broadband. I am seeing older people living isolated lives at home suddenly able to use connections to New Zealand and Australia, to speak with their families. I am seeing children taking lessons in Russian online. Broadband takes Cumbria from being an isolated place to one that can now connect with places like China and Russia.”
Rory thanked the young cadets for their service to the country, and addressed them as the citizens of the future, for whom broadband will bring enormous opportunities. He also thanked Connecting Cumbria and BT for their role in helping to make the lives of the next generation much better.
Councillor Libby Bateman said: “The battle for broadband in Cumbria began many years ago and when Rory became our MP in 2010 he made it his mission to get superfast broadband funding for Cumbria. It’s great to see homes and businesses across Cumbria beginning to be connected and enjoy the benefit of this investment from central Government. There are two cabinets fibre-enabled in Appleby, connecting over 500 homes, with a further five cabinets being upgraded later this year. It’s over to the residents now to make contact with their Internet Service Provider and order a superfast broadband package. There is often some confusion as people presume their broadband will go faster automatically, but sadly this isn’t the case, residents do need to sign up for a faster service. People should check out the Connecting Cumbria Website to find out if their property is connected to the superfast services.”
Lt Col Mike Gerrish, who is the civilian chairman of the 2192 Appleby Squadron ATC, said: “A fast and reliable broadband service is essential to our modern training programme. The staff and the 30 cadets at the Appleby Squadron are delighted that our use of the online systems will be enhanced by the availability of superfast broadband.”
Elsewhere in Eden, Connecting Cumbria is building on the work done since the county’s first fibre cabinet went live in the village of Yanwath in October 2013. BT’s engineers will be working to deliver fibre to areas including Orton, Pooley Bridge, Shap and Glenridding in 2015.
L-R Brendan Dick of BT, Rory Stewart MP and Councillor Libby Bateman with Appleby’s Air Cadets
Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and The Border, on Saturday held a ‘dairy surgery’ at Sewborwens Farm, Newton Rigg, attended by dozens of local dairy farmers. The first event of its kind in Penrith and The Border, the surgery was designed to allow farmers to speak about their experiences of the current dairy crisis and to discuss potential solutions with the local MP. At the end of the meeting Rory pledged to take to Westminster “the need for confident leadership to help strengthen our dairy industry for generations to come”.
Attendees included not only farmers, but local councillors, veterinarians, agricultural accountants, an agricultural chaplain, and many more. Topics covered included the supermarket monopolies and their influence on product price; the importance of labelling and marketing, ensuring that local milk is bought locally; the need to address issues of future food security; and the steps government is taking to ensure that cash-flow difficulties are eased for farmers, by prioritising SFPs for dairy farmers, and pushing HMRC to show flexibility in connection with filing of annual tax returns.
Responding to calls from attendees that more guidance and support from government was required, Rory listened to a wide range of suggestions about how to strengthen the dairy industry to withstand future global volatility.
Speaking at the event he said: “This is not just about the wider global market. This is about supporting our dairy farmers and the dairy industry through a range of initiatives: for example, modelling export on countries such as New Zealand and Ireland; persuading government to invest more heavily in processing units, so that our own milk is being processed and packaged in this country; ensuring our local institutions and organisations buy and promote local milk; working with the groceries ombudsman to break up the monopolies that are forcing producers into untenable contracts, and to get all supermarkets to pay a fair price for milk; and investing in building dairy brands recognised the world over. If we are serious about competing in global markets, we need to make Britain have the best processing capacity. I will now be arranging meetings with Defra, the Groceries Adjudicator, and the Treasury to discuss potential initiatives that could transform the dairy sector in a really radical way.”
Veterinarian David Black of Paragon Vets said: “We’re grateful to Rory for convening this important meeting. Lots of industries live on the back of dairy farms, so it doesn’t just affect farmers themselves. Currently, we are swinging on a knife edge. It’s all very well to say that the markets will balance, but meanwhile we are devaluing the product to the consumer. Government needs to bring pressure to bear so that the consumer values our milk more.”
Rory concluded with a plea to dairy farmers across the constituency to please stay in touch: “I have a lot to learn from your ideas and thoughts, so please keep coming back to me. The biggest message for me, which I am taking to Westminster, is that we could do much more, and better, and that government needs to be more engaged in the industry. I will continue pushing government to make sure dairy farmers’ immediate cashflow problems are supporting. Secondly, I will discuss with ministers how to increase the industry’s ambition, but strengthening processing, supporting on exports, and pushing into new markets. And, locally, we will look at ways to strengthen the Cumbrian brand and push schools, organisations, and councils to buy local milk.”