MP calls on Cumbria to up its game

13 Feb 2017

Cumbria needs to up its game and grow its population to make the most of opportunities in the decades ahead, says Carlisle MP John Stevenson.

Addressing more than 100 business people at a Cumbria Chamber of Commerce lunch at the Halston, Carlisle, the Conservative MP was particularly critical of the county’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) after its bid for Growth Deal funding was largely knocked back by government.
 
He said: "We have a LEP that is underperforming and in need of radical reform and fresh leadership.
 
"It is vital we get it because, whether you like it or not, the LEP is the route for the Government to invest in Cumbria.”
 
He was also critical of local authority politicians for failing to agree a devolution deal with ministers, which he said was a "missed opportunity”.

 
Mr Stevenson believes that population growth – the county has a population of 498,000 – is the key to prosperity.

He added: "We need more people to create critical mass. That’s the way we drive economic performance, and improve education, health and retail.”
 
Although he backed the Remain campaign in the European Union referendum, the MP is optimistic that the UK can forge a role in the world outside the EU.
 
He said: "Europe is declining. In 2008 it produced a third of the world’s GDP – today it’s below a quarter.
 
"Economic power is shifting away from Europe to Asia, South America and elsewhere.”
 
The greatest threat to UK prosperity, he argued, is the spectre of a trade war triggered by protectionist policies in the US.
 
He said: "We have to get a trading relationship with the EU, look for trading relationships with other countries, and influence America to stop them going down the road of protectionism.”
 
He remains hopeful of a "bespoke” UK/EU deal but is concerned that political events in Europe could derail Brexit negotiations.
 
Mr Stevenson said: "Something could go pop in Europe, whether it’s a banking crisis in Italy, the Greek economy or the election of Marine Le Pen in France.”

Introducing Mr Stevenson, the Chamber’s business engagement manager, Julian Whittle, outlined its plans to set up four strategic employer groups to engage with members on policy issues.
 
He said: "Cumbria is on the threshold of enormous opportunity, with astronomical figures being quoted for inward investment.
 
"It’s vital that the voice of business is heard so that change happens in ways that allow businesses like yours to seize the opportunities.”

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