Penrith and The Border MP Rory Stewart has described this week’s Autumn Statement as an ‘Autumn Statement for Cumbria’, delivering to the county and to Penrith and The Border many key pledges that have been integral to Rory’s longest-standing campaigns: from greater investment into Cumbria’s road and rail infrastructure, to the refunding of VAT on hospices and hospice charities, to the exemption of employers from national insurance contributions when they hire apprentices under 25 – one of Rory’s main arguments for the boosting of the local Cumbrian economy and something which he has consistently lobbied the Chancellor on since election – the local MP has welcomed announcements that will directly benefit Cumbrian businesses, charities and families.

Central to this was the commitment from Government to invest substantially in transport infrastructure, science and technology industries, and in broadband provision in the North of England to create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ for the UK economy. Following Rory’s strong involvement over the past four years in promoting the case of both the A69 and the A66 for dualling, Cumbria’s roads and rail infrastructure in particular are set for significant investment. Over £6bn has been set aside for improving northern roads, and follows on from recent successes in Rory’s campaigns to see major upgrades in Penrith and The Border. Having secured a full feasibility study for the roads, he has promised to help secure the necessary funding from these latest resources, to ensure the upgrade projects are made a reality.

Cumbrian rail infrastructure will benefit and, following repeated calls from Rory and Cumbrian colleagues, the Government has announced that it will tender for new franchises for Northern Rail and the Trans-Pennine Express, replacing unpopular pacer carriages with modern trains. This will deliver 20% more capacity to relieve overcrowding, and reduce journey times for train journeys in the north.

The confirmation that VAT will be refunded for Mountain Rescue, Search and Rescue and Air Ambulance teams is especially welcome, coming as a direct result of sustained lobbying from mountain rescue teams working alongside Rory, who served as the chair of the APPG on Mountain Rescue for four years. The Chancellor confirmed that search and rescue team and air ambulance charities will be eligible for VAT refunds from next April, and will replace the previous mechanism which saw government provide grants to UK teams to partially offset the tax they had to pay on equipment and fuel.

Speaking on the budget, Rory Stewart said:

“This Autumn Statement will be of real benefit to Cumbria and the north-west. Our local charities are set to benefit especially – which is a true credit to the amazing work they do, and a recognition of the role our community organisations play in strengthening economies – and our roads and railways should receive continued investment, something to boost our already growing tourism economy. I’m especially gratified that businesses hiring apprentices under 25 will be exempt from National Insurance contributions, something I have long argued is vital to Cumbria’s prosperity.”

“The VAT refund for Mountain Rescue teams is of course something I feel immensely proud to have campaigned for. Cumbrian Mountain and Cave Rescue teams deal with nearly half of all rescues carried out across the whole of England and Wales, and our teams of highly-trained, unpaid volunteers, represent voluntary service at its very best. We have fought hard for these VAT changes, and it will now help ensure that the unbelievably generous charitable donations from Cumbrian people, goes even further in supporting our Mountain Rescue teams.”

At a national level, the UK continues to be the fastest growing economy in the G7, with 3% growth forecast in 2014, up from 2.7% predicted in March, and 2.4% growth forecast in 2015. An estimated 500,000 new jobs will be created this year, 85% of of which will be full-time, and unemployment is set to fall to 5.4% in 2015.

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