Better digital connectivity for my constituents has been a key pillar of my campaigning in Parliament since my election. This issue is not going away and I will bang the drum and do all in my power to improve the outcomes for the residents of Penrith and The Border. I consistently meet with Ministers, industry leaders, local and parish councils and local residents to seek the best way forward for areas that are still suffering from sluggish broadband speeds and poor phone signal.
On this very subject, in a recent Westminster Hall Debate I pressed the Digital Minister, Julia Lopez MP, to work with Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) and other providers to make sure that the Project Gigabit (the Government’s £5bn broadband project) procurement process and changes to the voucher scheme do not prevent locally-led projects from progressing. As a result of my representations and those of B4RN’s Chief Executive, Michael Lee, a number of B4RN’s active projects over the next two years will have the green light and there should be no need for any pause in their delivery. I believe this will help enable residents and businesses across Cumbria to reap the benefits of being at the forefront of our Project Gigabit programme. It was great to be able to use my position in Westminster to achieve this positive outcome for B4RN and my constituents.
I recently attended the launch of the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project consultation, where I was joined by The Transport Minister, Baroness Vere, local council and business leaders. The consultation runs until 11.59pm on 6 November and I would encourage readers to head to the Highways England website to have their say. It is vital that local people feed through their views about the project. At the launch I had the opportunity to relay concerns of local residents in areas like Warcop to the Minister, who is also keen for the consultation to be as informative as possible.
In the last month, I voted against the government in three areas. I am not afraid to vote for what I see as the best interests of my constituents, even if that means voting against my own Party. Firstly, on its plans to raise National Insurance to help fund health and social care. I fully agree that we need to increase funding for the NHS and Social Care and need to take the tough decisions as to how to do this. But I firmly believe that if you make a manifesto promise such as not raising National Insurance then you need to keep that promise.
Secondly, on the Triple Lock on pensions I felt uncomfortable about pensioners not receiving the support they need at this time of economic uncertainty so accordingly took the tough decision to vote against the government. Pensioners were relying on the Triple Lock to remain over the course of this Parliament as was promised in our manifesto, and removing it is the wrong move. This is something I have been consistent on, that we should keep our manifesto commitments to the electorate. We need to deliver on the platform that we laid out at the last election and not take the support that we received from the public for granted.
Thirdly, I also voted against the government on its plans to remove the uplift in Universal Credit. Unfortunately, I think the government has found itself on the wrong side of this debate. The £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit has been a lifeline to many of my constituents throughout the pandemic and it would not be prudent to take money out of people’s pockets as the economy is still recovering from such a shock.
To conclude, I am happy to report that I was delighted to hold my first Virtual Farming Roadshow for Penrith and The Border last month. This unique event gave local farmers, land managers, and other rural stakeholders an update on the delivery of current schemes and a chance to hear details on the Future Farming and Countryside Programme. Attendees were also given the opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns directly with senior officials from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Rural Payments Agency. With over 70 farmers and rural stakeholders in attendance, the event was a great success and I am minded to organise similar future events.