It’s almost exactly eight years since this column first appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times.
That first column, written when I was a newly-elected backbench MP, featured a visit to Reeth Show – which is where I was again last bank holiday Monday.
This annual celebration of Dales life is always a joy to attend and this time I had the privilege of joining show officials, led by Reeth Band, in the traditional parade from the village’s handsome green down to the showfield.
It was my second visit of the weekend to a Dales agricultural show – I was at the Wensleydale Show with my family on the Saturday.
I love our shows. They are a great opportunity for to meet up with old friends and talk to people about rural issues and the farming industry.
Throughout my time working in Government those issues – particularly the importance of food and farming to the nation – have remained a priority. For example, this week on Wednesday – which was Back British Farming Day – I hosted a meeting of farmers, including NFU president Minette Batters and some from our area, at a wide-ranging discussion in No 10.
I was able to tell them about an important Government announcement relating to the new Sustainable Farming Incentive support payment. Farmers will receive a 50 per cent down payment in November if they sign up to the SFI scheme next month – easing cashflow concerns.
Wednesday’s meeting followed the first UK Farm to Fork summit held in Downing Street in May. Then I brought farmers and food producers to No 10 to discuss how government and the farming/food sector can work together to support a thriving UK food industry. I will always back our farmers and food producers.
One rural issue which featured in many of my conversations at Reeth Show back in 2015 but I am pleased to say much less so in 2023 was mobile phone and broadband coverage.
It’s something I have worked hard on throughout my time as your MP and we have made good progress. In 2015 only 28 per cent of North Yorkshire received any form of 3G signal. Now, the vast majority of homes and businesses here are covered by 4G.
Yes, there are some isolated areas where work is continuing to connect up newly-built government-funded masts to fill-in gaps in coverage but many of those should be switched on in the coming months.
This week there was good news about more masts being constructed locally under the Government’s Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme.
Approval was given for a new mast in Kildale and I was notified of plans for another – subject to local authority approval – above Ingleby Greenhow on the North York Moors.
Both masts are scheduled to be funded under the £1bn SRN programme. The overall cost of programme is being spilt between the government and the four mobile network operators. These two masts will be built in ‘not-spot’ areas where there is currently no mobile coverage and will transform digital connectivity in the area.