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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Cumbria has a lot to be proud of

IT would be strange if I didn’t start without referring to the debate around a Geological Disposal Facility for nuclear waste here in West Cumbria.

Britain’s Energy Coast is a partnership which spans local authorities and local business, in particular the nuclear industry.

Our owners are Copeland Borough Council, Allerdale Borough Council and Cumbria County Council and our funders the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Nuclear Management Partners and Sellafield Ltd. Our constituent parts have different views on this complex debate and they have drawn their own conclusions as they see fit.

We have to respect the decisions made by councillors on all three authorities and I am sure much will happen in the coming weeks and months to explore what other options are open both locally and nationally.

However, we as a nation cannot lose sight of the fact that we need to deal with the country’s nuclear waste in a responsible and safe manner. We need to make progress sooner rather than later based on information and fact.

Much of Britain’s nuclear waste stems from the civil nuclear and defence industry based in West Cumbria and for that we are owed much – not just in financial terms, but in recognition and appreciation.

The location of a facility is a debate that will rumble on. However, West Cumbria’s expertise and skills to safely and efficiently deal with this nation’s nuclear legacy cannot be questioned.

West Cumbria has a cluster of world-leading companies which can help with nuclear decommissioning and waste management locally, nationally and internationally. We should be proud to have such hard-working people and innovative businesses here.

They are not just driving the local economy, they are tackling a complex and, yes, costly legacy related to the national security and energy security of Britain. This is why it was so disappointing to see attacks being made on West Cumbria’s nuclear industry during the GDF debate.

It is cynical to use the GDF debate as a surrogate for general anti-nuclear prejudices. Nobody should seek to deny what the nuclear industry brings to the area; whether it is by ensuring safety at the Sellafield site, providing long-term highly paid jobs with global career prospects, stimulating innovation and research of worldwide importance or contributing to all aspects of the local economy and society.

Scaremongering attacks on the industry which take no account of these factors are offensive to the thousands of workers at the Sellafield site and many more in the supply chain companies who on a daily basis are devising world-class solutions to the world-class problems at Sellafield.

These skills are in demand around the world and this was clear during the BEC-backed trade mission to Japan and South Korea which took place a few months ago.

Korea is looking for global assistance for its decommissioning and waste management challenges while Japan is facing a huge challenge at the Fukushima site.

For me it is hugely promising that our companies, born and developed through our nuclear industry, are able to assist.

We have to be cautious in our optimism but then we can collectively be proud that a West Cumbrian company has picked up a contract to help with the Fukushima clean-up.

It is fantastic to see an innovative technology developed by REACT Engineering and Createc recognised with such high praise by Hitachi. I hope it is the first of many international business successes for our innovative cluster of supply chain companies and their hidden gem products. They are clearly in demand, and we should be proud of this.

Since the last edition I have also had the pleasure of visiting other globally renowned businesses with roots in West Cumbria; Tata Steel and New Balance.

The steel industry has been a long-standing part of Workington’s fabric and though the numbers involved will never reach past heights, it was great to visit the site and learn more about their work in energy, transport and construction and how they are investing in their workforce, which currently stands at almost 400.

They continue a rich engineering heritage and demonstrate the resilience and determination which typifies West Cumbria. We should be proud of our past but not dwell on it and celebrate those such as Tata Steel who are looking ahead to the future.

New Balance, a US-owned company, has had its British manufacturing base in West Cumbria for 30 years. At Flimby, more than 200 workers produce almost 30,000 pairs of shoes each week – worn by elite sportspeople and the fashion conscious alike.

These are excellent, hand-made products which depend upon the skills of a highly trained workforce. New Balance are indeed proud upholders of the area’s tradition of footwear manufacturing and I thank them for giving me such an illuminating insight into the process. I am now a convert to New Balance products and had never before realised that 27 separate parts go into a single trainer!

I’d also like to pay tribute to the fact that we have made our first award through the Regional Growth Fund and Nuclear Decommissioning Authority backed Investing in Business programme.

Support in Sport Manufacturing Ltd are another hidden gem with big ambitions for the future and we’re delighted to be helping them realise their potential. With major projects under their belt such as the artificial pitch at Saracens rugby union club, they are certainly carrying the flag for manufacturing excellence in West Cumbria. Another reason to be proud.

These are just a few examples of how businesses are thriving in West Cumbria thanks to the skills and dedication of their workforce. There are plenty more examples in the pages of this publication.

We have a lot to be proud of both within and outside the nuclear sector and we should celebrate our businesses and people. They are West Cumbria’s greatest assets and its finest advertisements.

To flourish, people and communities need – above all – jobs and the certainty of jobs for their families. Everyone has a duty to remember that basic requirement, even if not personally affected by it.

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