I wish you all a very Happy New Year and hope everyone had a Merry Christmas. Your support has been the driving force behind the positive changes we have achieved in 2023. Having travelled the length and breadth of Penrith and The Border, from a Roman dig on Hadrian’s Wall to innovating factories in Wigton and Lazonby – and from former Nenthead Mines to Bampton’s community pub – I’d like to reflect on my highlights of 2023 working for you in Westminster.
Last January, I started by visiting our local gigabit broadband rollout HQ at Newton Rigg, where apprentices are being trained in a host of futureproof industries. Work has continued throughout the year on upgrading local homes and businesses, getting people connected and unlocking economic potential. Having fought for this £108 million scheme, it is exciting to see the project bearing fruit.
In February, I welcomed the Prime Minister’s historic agreement with the EU – the Windsor Framework deal - which made huge steps in resolving post-Brexit issues on trade, agri-food movement, and safeguarding Northern Ireland’s place in the Union.
Throughout Spring, I had the honour of working alongside the humbling 3 Dads Walking to get safe, age-appropriate, suicide prevention on school curricula. Since raising their plight in PMQs and meeting the Prime Minister and Education Secretary, we have managed to input into a review of the curriculum and all our fingers are crossed for a positive outcome. The 3 Dads – including our own Andy Airey – are simply amazing. To turn such immense personal tragedy into a national campaign of compassion is deeply inspiring, and it has been a joy to make progress alongside them.
On health, I have been working alongside Cumbria Health on Call who have taken over 3 local GP Surgeries – securing their future for generations to come. Having displayed the power of their innovative primary care model allowing rural practices to remain open with a diverse clinical workforce, I was delighted to invite their CEO, Susan Blakemore, to Downing Street to celebrate the NHS’ 75th anniversary.
Another campaign for us win is with rail ticket offices, which will all remain open locally. That means Penrith, Appleby and Carlisle offices will remain open, helping us all – especially the disabled and the elderly – use our vital railways.
I am also committed to securing our water infrastructure following the illegal discharge of sewage into our precious waterways. I expect better, you expect better, and frankly our planet deserves better. I am confident 2024 is the year we turn the tide on heinous sewage discharges. Throughout the year, I’ve grilled water company chiefs in Select Committee hearings and succeeded in calling for tougher action in Parliament. With unlimited fines for polluters, 100% storm overflow monitoring and robust intervention by the Government on accelerating water company action, change is coming.
Alongside this, I have steered Government policy against immoral producers and vendors targeting our young with vapes. Having led a Parliamentary debate, and secured a consultation on the issue, Government is soon cracking down on youth-focused marketing, displays, flavours and also environmental impacts of disposable vapes. A big win after I have spearheaded the parliamentary campaign for so long.
I have also been campaigning for increased local investment to level up rural Cumbria. I welcomed £1.5 million for flood protection in Appleby which – considering our local weather – will be money well spent. Then I helped secure more than £7 million for a state-of-the-art enterprise hub near Penrith to unlock rural potential with some 80 businesses, 500 jobs, and an estimated £20 million in economic benefit over the next decade. We also secured a monumental £86 million for a Ministry of Defence storage facility near Longtown supporting hundreds of jobs on both sides of the border – a huge vote of confidence in our part of the world.
2023 was in many ways the year of the bus. With our Conservative Government already investing £876,873 as part of the Bus Service Improvement Plan, the Prime Minister’s brave decision to relocate HS2 cash across the nation has meant Cumbria will receive an extra £2.8 million to improve services in the next financial year. And when considering the £2 bus fare cap extension please do consider where you can using these services for their long term viability.
The greatest bus successes came with post-16 transport. Currently 16-18-year-olds must stay in education or training but without recourse to affordable transport. As such, I secured 3 pots of funding totally over half a million pounds so our young people can make positive life-changing decisions without being hampered by transport worries. It was a highlight to praise local headteacher Gill Jackson for her tireless work on this issue during PMQs and I’m sure his positive response will be a welcome retirement present for someone who has made so much positive change across Alston Moor.
As regular readers know, I take immense pride in my work on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, and this year we have outlined a host of recommendations to Government from our in-depth evidence-based reports. My personal highlights are our Rural Mental Health report, triggering an inquiry into pet ownership since the pandemic and producing a report on how we can better protect marine mammals in our waters and across the globe. Another EFRA report that I instigated ties into a broader theme of food security. From supporting our brilliant farmers to reducing pressures for consumers at the checkout, food security is pivotal to our lives. As such I have helped secure a ‘Buy British’ button on major supermarket websites, led an expert panel to shape national policy, and worked alongside the NFU in their Back British Farming Campaign. Big issue for our part of the world and one I will persevere with.
Finally, I wish everyone a safe and prosperous 2024.