Just a couple of weeks ago, Storm Arwen had a devastating effect on many communities across Penrith and The Border, leaving large numbers of people without power for several days. It was a torrid time for so many, and it was wonderful to see how folk worked together to help communities out. I would like to thank all the teams at Electricity North West, the emergency services, councils and volunteers who worked day and night to support folk without power in these most difficult of circumstances. Moreover, I would like to thank all the businesses and community hubs for offering support to those without power. I am making sure that local concerns are heard in Westminster so that we are better prepared for extreme weather in future, and raised the issue twice on the floor of the House of Commons. I also met with the Secretary of State Kwasi Kwarteng and Energy Minister Greg Hands during the crisis to discuss the situation on the ground and to call for additional support.
With the emergence of the Omicron Covid variant it is as important as ever that people take up the opportunity to get vaccinated. We are still in the early days of understanding of how the variant will behave but I would urge everyone to listen to the public health guidance. Our current progress and future success rely on the NHS staff and volunteers involved in the vaccine rollout. I would like to thank them all for their tireless efforts. Due to their hard work tens of thousands of people in Penrith and The Border have received three Covid vaccine doses, which will offer life-saving protection to them and their loved ones this winter. It is truly our most effective shield against the virus and by taking the vaccine you are not only protecting yourself but others too. I once again encourage all those who have not yet come forward to take up the offer of a vaccine – booster jabs will protect the progress we have made against the virus and ensure that we can all enjoy Christmas safely with our loved ones in the safe knowledge that we have taken the responsible steps to protect them from the virus.
As a member of the Kept Animals Bill Public Bill Committee (set up by the House of Commons to examine and scrutinise the details of a particular Bill) I pressed the case on a number of points in Committee stage including: animal theft, bolstering the UK abattoir network, increasing health checks & treatments in imported animals (eg rabies, ticks, Brucella canis), veterinary capacity, tackling pet smuggling and mutilations such as ear cropping in dogs. I was also keen again to highlight the current crisis in the pig sector, as I have done a number of times in the Commons. Unfortunately, it is a symptom of some of the animal welfare, labour and livestock farming issues we face in this country. With increasing reports that pigs are tail biting, developing respiratory diseases and some are being culled. Sadly, I can vouch for the fact that culls have a huge effect on farmers, vets and all concerned, when I as a vet supervised the culling of many animals on farm during the Foot and Mouth crisis. Even more reason that culls should be avoided at all costs.
More local news to finish, I recently attended and spoke at the physical launch of the Penrith Youth Hub. The Hub, based in the Eden Rural Foyer in Penrith, will provide Eden jobseekers under the age of 25 with extra support in their search for work. It also has outreach locations across Eden District. It is part of the UK Government’s multi-billion-pound Plan for Jobs, and is one of six similar hubs being opened across the county. Young jobseekers will be able to take advantage of a comprehensive service, with Youth Employability Coaches from Jobcentre Plus providing them with tailored support to find work or reskill for alternative careers, and alerting them to available training opportunities in our region. It is really exciting to see what is planned for the new Youth Hub in Penrith and great to see it coming to fruition. A huge thanks to all the partners and stakeholders who made this project a reality. When a young person is 16-24 it is a vital stage of their development, so the Youth Hub can play a vital role in getting young folk on the job ladder and kick-starting their careers.
Finally, may I take this opportunity to wish all my constituents and their families a safe, happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year.