Rural areas need a fairer funding deal

General Mills Jus Rol factory on the Tweedside Trading Estate
General Mills Jus Rol factory on the Tweedside Trading Estate

I am starting the new year with a debate in Parliament this week on the Armed Forces Covenant Report.

This is the Government’s annual assessment of how we as a nation are achieving our commitments to our armed forces personnel and veterans, which is an issue close to my heart and of great importance in Northumberland.

Before Christmas, I set up an All-Party Group on the Covenant with colleagues from all political parties, and this debate is the first step in a long campaign to ensure the commitments made in the Covenant are being upheld.

Looking ahead to February, the Commons will be debating and voting on the new grant to local authorities serving rural areas such as our own.

Rural residents pay more in council tax, receive fewer services and, on average, earn less than those in urban areas, but usually receive less in central government funding than urban areas. In times of reducing public expenditure, it is more important than ever to distribute available resources fairly.

As a member of the Rural Fair Share cross-party group of MPs, I welcome the Government’s proposal to quadruple the rural services grant for local authorities delivering services in the most sparsely populated rural areas.

Local government secretary Greg Clark said the Government would increase the amount of the Rural Services Delivery grant from £15.5million to £65million in 2019-2020.

This is good news for Northumberland, but I will continue to lobby central government for fairer funding in other budgets, including education, to ensure that we get a fair deal.

I continue to support the workers in the Jus-Rol factory in Berwick, whose American owner General Mills is currently consulting on its plans to move production to its factory in Greece.

I believe that would not only be bad for Berwick, but bad for the Jus-Rol brand, and I will continue to do all I can to convince General Mills and the big retailers that production should stay in Britain, in the hands of the talented workforce here in Berwick.

Over in Alnwick, there seems to be good news for the Covance site, where a deal is in progress.

The Government’s Office for Life Sciences has been working with and supporting the local taskforce to ensure every staff member has a good future, be that at Covance or in a new arena.

I will continue to offer all the support I can as discussions progress and have received confirmation this week that the Office for Life Sciences will continue its support.

There is good news in Berwick with the recently-announced Enterprise Zone in Ramparts Business Park.

This is possibly the first time in more than 40 years that Berwick has been actively linked with economic development proposals from the Government – it is fantastic news for a wonderful town and will provide new jobs and new opportunities, allowing us to show Berwick’s merits to wider investment audiences for the first time.

I am pleased to say Berwick Town Council is taking advantage of the news and is holding the Berwick Investors Conference on March 17, sponsored by UK Trade and Investment.

I would urge businesses across Northumberland to attend to learn more about UK Government, regional and EU support to assist them with development and growth.

Anyone can contact my team in the constituency via the Alnwick office on 01665 517512, or the Berwick office on 01289 385150.

Alternatively, contact the team by email to