EARLIER this week I brought some of the biggest players in the mobile phone world up to Grizebeck Village Hall to discuss mobile connectivity. Delegates from MobileUK, 02 and others joined Westmorland and Furness Council, the LEP, the Lake District National Park, National Trust, Connecting Cumbria, and a good range of local voices too to discuss why having a decent mobile signal matters, and how to accelerate roll out.

I was appointed as the Government’s first Rural Connectivity Champion back in June, and have been working for months to improve coverage and accelerate rollout to the areas across the whole of the UK that don’t have decent access.

When MobileUK asked me to speak at a conference on this subject, I insisted that it be in Furness in one of those areas where local people are badly affected by a lack of coverage.

I’m passionate about improving things and will feed back what I learned to Ministers next week.

On Friday I brought the Roads Minister Guy Opperman to Barrow to join a meeting to discuss the transport issues in the area with local Council leaders and BAE to discuss how we can best work with his Department to deliver tangible improvements to the A590, A595, the Furness and Energy Coast Lines, and also our local transport networks too.

The Minister was visiting as part of the #TeamBarrow project, led by the Cabinet Secretary and designed to uplift the infrastructure and public services in Furness so that it is able to deliver the Dreadnought and SSN-AUKUS programmes, and that the wider community can feel the benefit of this.

Small and medium businesses make up 99.9 per cent of the 5.6 million businesses in the UK. We have some truly fantastic ones here in Furness, so it has been my pleasure over the last week to get out and about and meet some of their owners to talk about what they offer.

I filmed interviews with six local small businesses as part of Small Business Saturday, and it was fascinating to hear their stories.

Little Beasties in Ulverston is a true family affair, and offers support and advice to pet owners, as well as pet holidays, everything you might need to look after your pet, and some for purchase too.

Burrows in Barrow is an institution, selling tools and sundries, as well as offering tool repair and locksmithing.

Oubas runs from an amazing studio in Ulverston, creating fantastic and sustainable clothing in wool, each piece lovingly hand-crafted by Kate and her team.

Cumbria Sewing and Craft Centre has everything you might need to knit, sew, craft or mend and runs knit and natter sessions.

Brockies in Ulverston sells the finest fruit and veg and is gearing up for Christmas orders, having stepped up during the pandemic to serve those who couldn’t leave their homes.

And Heaths in Barrow is an Aladdin’s Cave of a shop, piled high with toys, maps, jigsaw puzzles, stationary and so much more, and also offers furniture and other items for businesses too.

Each of these stores, alongside so many others in Furness, employ local people, go above and beyond for the communities they sit in, and help keep our high streets alive, and community together.

Every pound that you spend with them stays in the local economy, pays a local wage, and helps keep these institutions open. I realise that you will be reading this long after Small Business Saturday has passed, but please do remember to shop local if you can in the run up to Christmas, and afterwards too.