A few weeks ago I saw a letter about the local economy, asking what action is being taken to make things better. These are very challenging times for businesses and the economy at the moment – but in South Lakeland we really are bucking the trend. It’s probably about time that we blew our own trumpet!
Since 2010 we have had a string of economic successes. This is down to the ingenuity of local businesses, both big and small.
I have tried to work with them, support them and lobby for them. We’ve worked very hard to win over half a billion pounds of Government and private funding for Croppers in Burneside, Gilkes in Kendal, GlaxoSmithKline in Ulverston and Windermere Steamboat Museum. We also won our fight to re-open Ambleside’s University campus!
On top of this, the hugely impressive Lakeland Ltd recently unveiled plans for a £10 million investment at its Kendal site, creating more than 100 jobs.
The worrying announcement at Heinz reminds us that we cannot be complacent, and that we need to work really hard if we are to continue bucking the trend. But even at Heinz, the relatively new £2million investment in production capacity gives us the chance to win new orders and to bring back those jobs That’s why we decided to make last year ‘the year of the apprentice’ – local businesses did me proud and rose to the challenge. The number of apprentices in our area rose by a massive 96 per cent! That’s now over 800 young people in South Lakeland who are learning a trade and earning at the same time.
Now I want us to focus on supporting our high street.
I am regularly meeting local businesses, big and small, and trying to bring South Lakeland District Council and others together to create a plan that will work.
These meetings have led to real action – the council agreed to help local businesses by scrapping overnight parking charges.
Even though we have fewer empty shops than just about any other district in the North, there are still too many. That’s why I have asked George Osborne to revalue business rates so that local businesses see a permanent reduction now. SLDC has also created a cabinet position to make sure high streets stay at the top of their agenda.
But there are other things we need to do.
On infrastructure, our number one need is to urgently roll out a superfast broadband. The county council’s plan fails South Lakeland badly and I’ll keep working to connect our area to the broadband we deserve. I’m also working with communities and phone providers to deliver local schemes like at Witherslack.
Our rail infrastructure is crucial too – that’s why we’ve made progress in recent proposals to electrify the Lakes Line. This would boost our tourism sector by ensuring many more direct trains run between Windermere and Manchester Airport.
Recently I was delighted to be able to help Kendal College secure a £2 million grant to create a state-of-the-art engineering and science centre. The centre will help 200 students per year. Improving our skills base and linking it with our strong history of green manufacturing locally will give us an even better chance to bring to the South Lakes the well-paid, manufacturing jobs of the future.
That leads me on to my third point – widening our markets. I want to open doors for local businesses to the export market. Britain has embassies in most foreign countries – I want to make sure local businesses have the access they need.
I'm proud of the way South Lakes businesses continue to buck the trend. I'll keep doing all I can to ensure their success.
Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron