Representatives from the five political parties fielding parliamentary candidates in Penrith and The Border, yesterday attended a hustings set up by The Cumbria Third Sector Network, that focused specifically on the local voluntary sector. According to Karen Bowen, the Chief Officer of the Cumbria Council for Voluntary Service, who provided an overview of the voluntary work in Cumbria at the start of the debate, Cumbria has over 6000 voluntary organisations, drawing on the skills of over 50,000 local volunteers, who collectively give over 3.5m hours of voluntary work in Cumbria each year. Candidates were asked how the respective parties would better support volunteering, encourage more user involvement in the planning of public services and ensure that national policies take account of the needs of rural areas such as Cumbria.

Speaking on the platform was: Rory Stewart, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Penrith and The Border; Chris Loynes, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Westmorland and Lonsdale; Roger Liddle, Labour peer and county councillor for Wigton; Neil Hughes, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Penrith and The Border; and John Stanyer, UKIP Parliamentary Candidate for Penrith and The Border.

Speaking afterwards, Rory Stewart said:

“The voluntary sector is key to what we do here in Cumbria. Whether it is affordable housing, neighbourhood plans, mountain rescue, or palliative care at home, we are dependent upon the incredible generosity, energy and passion of thousands of volunteers. We need to ensure these organisations have the right support from Government, that we have in place a system that makes the act of volunteering easier, more enjoyable, and less bureaucratic, and that the genius and expertise of small, local charities is not lost as they struggle to compete against larger, more well-funded national charities. Cumbria has led the way nationally over the past five years when it comes to community and voluntary action. We have set up some incredible local projects that are having a real impact on local people’s lives, and I hope if I am fortunate enough to again earn the vote of local people in two week’s time, we can go on to do even more.”

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