Monthly Archives: December 2016

Merry Christmas 2016 from Penrith and The Border

Very Happy Christmas and Happy New Year.

When I wrote this letter last year, we were in the middle of the worst floods ever recorded in the United Kingdom. Three thousand homes were under water in Kendal and Carlisle, and hundreds in each of Appleby, Keswick and Cockermouth – and, while attention was on the larger areas, dozens of outlying villages were suffering terribly. I saw directly, hour by hour over the whole Christmas period, how much we owed to mountain and bay rescue teams, police, fire service, military, councils, churches, volunteers, the Environment Agency – and particularly to the communities themselves. Many of us were unable to be with our families at all over Christmas, and I hope that, like me, you are able to make up for it in some way this year.


I spent the next period, as Floods Minister, supporting teams who were repairing the damage – getting Appleby, Eamont and Pooley bridges reopened, for example, or clearing thousands of tonnes of rocks, rebuilding the bed, and reopening the A591 in time for the tourist season – and on helping individual households with affordable flood insurance, and grants for resilient repairs. By the spring we were able to focus on the longer-term thanks, in many ways, to the Environment Agency and the communities and farmers in the Cumbria Floods Partnership, who I sat with in dozens of meetings, not only challenging government, local agencies, the County Council and the Highways Department, but also patiently explaining their own solutions.  (I am delighted that we were able to secure up to £72 million extra to invest in flood defences across Cumbria, and additional money for natural flood protection.)

Floods aside we remain of course in the privileged and also difficult position of living in not only the most beautiful, but also the most sparsely-populated constituency in England. Which is why some of this year has also been spent pressing to extend broadband and mobile coverage deeper into rural areas, and on protecting our precious community hospitals (with huge thanks to the people from Alston to Wigton who have made the counter-proposals that explained in such detail how the community hospitals can help us more in the future). Cumbria’s tourism – to which our local economy is so connected – has bounced back, with record visitor numbers and room occupancy.  Our schools remain some of the best in rural Britain. And I was delighted to be able to secure central government funding to dual the A66, and  – after a six year campaign – to witness a lift finally working at Penrith Station.img_3862

Again and again citizens showed how they could identify what was wrong, and demonstrate they had the knowledge and experience to improve our government and society. But it was often challenging to bring community voices and ideas into the systems, bureaucracy and legal processes of government. In the Cumbria Floods Partnership, for example, hundreds of people had to meet repeatedly to balance the views of scientists and residents, and address a whole system. They had to argue about holding water back on the hills (through tree-planting and bogs); decide how to work with water companies (using their reservoirs) and with farmers in their fields; and choose where to slow the water down, through weirs, and where to speed it up through dredging.

But decisions about a river system are simple compared to some of the other decisions we need to make together in the future, such as how to protect what we love about our area, through different models of economic growth over the next thirty years; or how we translate the clear vote in favour of Brexit into the details of a trade negotiation with Europe; or – and this will be surprisingly relevant even in Cumbria – how we work with a Trump administration. These things can seem very distant from a Lake District fellside, but all my recent walks (some of which I have written about in my new book, The Marches), showed me again and again how deeply we are enmeshed in a much larger world – how the smallest farm can be buffeted not just by new environmental fashions for rewilding in London, but also by decisions on dairy made in New Zealand, or tariffs in the Middle East. Day by day, I saw the difficulty of balancing the different interests of a small island with those well beyond our seas. Day by day, I was reminded of the problem of listening intelligently and fairly to things which are difficult and deeply inconvenient to hear.img_2440

At Christmas in particular I am reminded that, for all our challenges at home, there are billions whose lives are far worse. It is one thing to know that hundreds of millions of people continue to live in extreme poverty  – it is another really to think through what that means: to remember what happens on a dollar a day if you are sick in Bangladesh, or to have to choose in the Chad basin whether to give food to your grandparents or your children. Personally, having visited Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen when they were at peace only five years ago, and to know that today they are tormented by armed militia, pulverised by barrel bombs and, in some cases, dying of preventable cholera or simply starving…. But I will leave it there.

I hope in the year ahead, and the years that follow, we can continue to work together to combine the very different and testing virtues which sustain us – the patience to abide with our democracies (citizens and politicians alike), the rigour to refute nonsense, the faith to persevere, and the humility to admit what we cannot know, and cannot do alone.

Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and New Year,


Rory Stewart MP last week visited Complete Engineering Services in Crosby-on-Eden. Founded in 1998, the firm is one of the largest providers of precision engineered parts in Cumbria and South West Scotland, and now employs 16 people.

The firm manufactures replacement components for large machinery for clients such as Pirelli, M Sport and James Walker, offering modifications and repairs as well as fulfilling requests for special purpose machinery. Complete Engineering also runs an apprenticeship scheme supported by Carlisle Local Committee. Apprentices undertake engineering qualifications through Gen 2 Training, while also learning on the job with Complete Engineering. Through this process, apprentices gain practical and technical engineering skills as well as acquiring the IT knowledge necessary for using Complete Engineering’s specialist, state-of-the-art equipment, and eventually become fully qualified mechanical engineers.

Director Alan Walker said: “For many of the companies that rely on us, a faulty machine can cost thousands of pounds an hour in lost production.  We need a team that can turn jobs round not just to a high standard, but quickly, so it’s vital that our apprentices gain the skills and experience to do that.”

During the visit Rory met with staff and was given a tour of the workshop by Directors Andrew Monkhouse and Alan Walker, and was impressed by the firm’s investment in local talent and their focus on innovation.

Rory said: “It’s incredible to see the results achieved by a Cumbrian business who continually invest in their staff and in technology. I am particularly impressed by the way in which they picked themselves up after the floods, and with their successful apprenticeships scheme. Apprenticeships provide people with a practical skill set that will stay with them for life, and bring a wealth of benefits to our economy in return, so it’s fantastic that Complete Engineering are offering these opportunities and nurturing local talent.”img_3358


Rory Stewart MP attended Crosby-on-Eden School’s carol service last week which took place in St John the Evangelist church. The service was led by Rev Tim Edwards and Rory read the poem ‘The Journey of the Magi’ – an account of the three kings’ journey to Bethlehem by T.S. Eliot. One group of children acted out the traditional nativity scene, while children in the pews sang a collection of Christmas carols.

Rory last visited the school in January 2016 in the aftermath of Storm Desmond, when the school building had been severely flooded and children were taking classes from portacabins erected in the playground. Twelve months later and the school is now back to normal, with resilience measures in place to ensure it is better protected in the future.

Following the event Rory said: “I am astounded by the energy and resilience of this school and the wider Crosby-on-Eden community who have demonstrated incredible spirit through a very challenging time. This carol service was a reminder of just how far we have come since last year and an opportunity to celebrate together.

It was a wonderful carol service, and the children were all superb. And I would like to thank the school’s staff and Rev Tim Edwards for allowing me to be part of this very special service. I hope that this year everyone has a much more peaceful Christmas.”




Rory Stewart MP has officially unveiled a £3.5m government investment into new facilities means that Penrith station is now accessible to all. The momentous occasion was the culmination of a years-long campaign, driven by Rory and the community, to upgrade the outdated and dangerous crossing facilities at the station, enabling access for the disabled, the elderly and the infirm, and for those with cumbersome baggage.

As part of the campaign, Rory twice brought the Secretary of State for T​ransport to Penrith station, and followed and pushed the project through a complex government bidding process. The lift- along with the dualling of the A66 finally confirmed in the latest autumn statement   – were two of his manifesto commitments in the last General Election.

Network Rail, in partnership with the Department for Transport (DfT) has installed a new lift and footbridge enabling all passengers to use the station safely and easily.

Rory said: “The campaign to improve disabled access at Penrith station has been
a long community effort, but ultimately successful; and I am absolutely thrilled that residents and travellers to and from Penrith now have the availability of new lifts and a footbridge, meaning that disabled and wheelchair users; the elderly; families with prams and pushchairs; and the many others who find it difficult to access the northbound platform, will have a much safer and easier time now. I would like to thank in particular local campaigners like Eden District Councillor John Thompson and County Councillor Helen Fearon, and all the constituents who wrote to me to support the campaign. Heartfelt thanks are also, of course, due to Network Rail’s
‘Access for All’ team and the Department for Transport for the commitment they have shown from the very beginning, and for completing on time and on budget. Thank you.”

The enhancement at the station forms part of the ‘Access for All scheme’, a programme managed by Network Rail and funded by the DfT, with the aim of improving accessibility at train stations. This includes installing lifts and ramps to make stations step-free and accessible to all passengers including those with reduced mobility, children, heavy luggage or shopping.

The work started in March 2016 and was completed on time and on budget, meaning passengers are now are able to use the footbridge over the West Coast main line and new lifts on platforms 1 and 2.

Judith Holmshaw, local rail user said: “Penrith train station staff provide excellent friendly and outstanding customer service helping me in my wheelchair to cross the barrier crossing every day after work. The new lift will mean I will have greater independence at the station and not have to rely on the staff helping me cross the barrier crossing to access the alternative platform. It will save time both for myself and the station staff, but will make access for wheelchair users, parents with pushchairs, people with mobility problems and with luggage to have a much easier option and improved access at Penrith station.

“I would like to thank Penrith train station staff for all their help over the years in all kinds of weather enabling me to travel to and from work every day, and thank Rory for helping us to secure this outcome!”



Rory Stewart MP spent Friday afternoon at Ullswater Community College, where he was interviewed by the Sounds of the Beacon team, judged the school’s essay prize on the issue of whether 16-year-olds should be able to vote, and met with headteacher Nigel Pattinson to discuss a number of issues affecting the school and the delivery of education in Cumbria. He met with a number of students and teachers, including Rachael Delamare and Lydia Graves, and was impressed by the level of political discourse among the essay finalists.

Rory commented: “It was great to return to the school, to chat with students about their courses and extra-curricular work, and of course their views on politics, and to see how the school has developed since my last visit. I continue to have a very clear sense that Penrith has at its heart a school that is evolving and moving forward in really exciting ways. Nigel Pattinson’s energy and commitment to improving the school for his students’ benefit was clear to see, and I was grateful for his briefing on issues around the school funding formula.”


The Politics of Development

In many of the poorest countries of the world more than eighty per cent of the population still live in rural areas. Their incomes – and indirectly their health, their educational prospects, and their future – depend on farming. Which is why tens of thousands of highly skilled experts – backed by programmes from all over the world – have dedicated their careers to helping farmers in the developing world over many decades. And yet many farmers are still desperately poor.

This would have been difficult to believe fifty years ago. Great irrigation schemes in the Punjab, based on thousands of miles of brick canals, had turned a desert into fertile land. New fertilisers, pesticides, and agricultural machinery were dramatically increasing the productivity of the soil. Anti-malarials were allowing places like the Nepali Terai, which had been previously uninhabitable, to be cultivated. Breeds of livestock were introduced, which produced far more milk and meat (you can still see Friesian cows, introduced by the Danes, in modern Afghanistan). The Filipino rice research institute developed new varieties of rice, which were not only far more productive, but were also more resistant to disease.

All these technical innovations have been reinforced by skills training – schemes to allow farmers in Uganda, for example, to identify diseases on crops and find the most efficient response. New infrastructure – such as roads and airports – have allowed farmers in Kenya to supply fresh food to UK markets. Production facilities have been constructed to process milk, and refrigerate fruit. World Bank consultants have introduced cash crops into completely different regions of the world – coffee into Vietnam for example. And in order to give more bargaining power to small farmers, chocolate manufacturers such as Divine chocolate have supported farming cooperatives.  At the heart of all these initiatives in agricultural development was the idea that the way to improve the lives of farmers was through better technology, more specialisation, increased capital, and better organisation.

So why are perhaps a billion farmers in the world still living in extreme poverty? Part of the answer is that many of these innovations have benefitted large agri-businesses, who can afford more expensive machinery, and are able to produce more food with fewer people, at a cheaper price – at the expense of small producers. Another part of the answer lies in the injustice in the relationships between buyers and farmers: the terms of trade are set by the buyers who pay little, and pay late, often playing the global commodity markets, and paying farmers under the cost of production.

But my sense is that the central problem is politics. The price that a farmer can receive for a crop is not simply a question of how hard and skilfully he (or increasingly in Africa, she) works. Nor is it even a direct result of the global commodity price. It is shaped by the policies of their national government. We can see this even in Cumbria where during the 1920s the government policy was to plant commercial forestry, and then in the early 1940s the policy was to bring the maximum amount of land into food production. We have seen it more recently with governments who tried to back ‘productive and efficient farming’; and others who have seen the same land primarily as a way of delivering environmental benefits – for biodiversity or climate change. These different overall objectives have led to completely different subsidies, regulations, payment schemes and trade relations (draining land and then re-flooding it; paying per head of sheep, as opposed to paying by acre; creating milk marketing boards and dismantling them). These are incredibly powerful instruments, which can completely transform or overwhelm many farm businesses. (We have lost two-thirds of our dairy farms in only the last twenty years).

But government policies which can bankrupt a farm business in Britain, can have a far more profound and devastating effect in the poorest countries in the world. We have seen this from utopian government schemes (the ‘groundnut scheme’ for example) in which farmers were forced to plant crops in places where they could not grow, could not be harvested, or could not find a buyer; through to revolutionary movements in China and Russia in which governments killed ‘peasants’ and small land-owners. Some governments (Ethiopia in the early 1980s) have created famines through their wars, or attempts to remake agricultural markets. Others (the government of Zimbabwe for example) have used the redistribution of land to reward political supporters, or punish opponents. And even where there is no conflict, hundreds of millions of farmers in the developing world have no secure title to their land and therefore no basis for investment.

Which is why, so often, what is needed to support farmers is not technical knowledge of fertilisers, or soil, or farming techniques – but instead a knowledge of government policy, and the ability to change it.  Without such an understanding, our technical assistance to small farmers will only provide false hope in a world that is stacked against them.


Rory Stewart MP, together with his parliamentary colleagues, co-hosted the second ‘Cumbria Day’ in the Houses of Parliament this week, showcasing the very best of Cumbrian produce and ingenuity in London, and setting the scene for one of a high-profile business networking opportunity in the heart of Westminster.A total of 18 businesses from across the county were invited to make the most of the opportunity to network and show off their products to representatives from across the whole country; from Penrith and The Border, companies included Eden Brewery from Brougham, and Lakes and Lambs from Plumpton.

The event also included award-winning marketing initiative Choose Cumbria, which works with employers including BAE Systems, GSK, Kimberly-Clark, the NHS, the University of Cumbria and Furness College, to promote the county as the place of choice to work, live, learn and play.Speaking at the event, Rory said: “Cumbria’s future relies on many things – of course a part of that will be reliance upon big business like the nuclear energy industry, defence and infrastructure investment – however, an incredibly important part of the future of Cumbria is to understand our landscape and our micro​-​businesses. Micro​-​business​es​ are essential to the Cumbrian economy, some of which are on display here today. In my constituency, ​roughly​ 92% of people are employed by companies which employ less that 10 people, 25% are self employed​,​ and 27% work from home. This reflects a need to understand our environment, our businesses and our ingenuity. The businesses on display here today represent the globalised nature of all businesses, as we have coffee beans bought from the Americas and brewed in European coffee machines, and Cumbrian beer made using Japanese ​g​reen tea. We are helping Cumbria, and Cumbrian businesses, connect the best of our tradition with the best of a global future​”​
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Please note that Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and The Border, will be holding drop-in surgeries:
Friday 9th December
16.30 – 18.00, Booths Cafe, Penrith

Friday 16 December
14.30 – 15.30, The Stables, Our Lady and St Wilfrid, Warwick Bridge  
18.00 – 19.00, Conservative Club, Brampton
No appointment is necessary, and all constituents are welcome.More information can be found at
For more information please call 01768 484 114.