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Wednesday, 01 October 2014

‘Partnership is the key’ - Copeland Council leader

DESPITE presiding over a local authority faced with making £2.6m spending cuts, Copeland Council leader Elaine Woodburn remains hopeful the borough can look to a much brighter future.

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OPTIMISTIC: Elaine Woodburn, Leader of Copeland Borough Council

And it will be help from its partners on Britain’s Energy Coast, particularly the nuclear sector, that will make this possible.

Councillor Woodburn says: “Expectations can’t really be set out without having a bit of a reality check, bearing in mind that we’re faced with unprecedented cuts here in Copeland.

“This will have a visible effect on what people see. It also means we’re going to have to stop doing some of the things we’ve spent many years putting time, resources and investment in to. And unfortunately it does mean the council will employ less people.”

Does the nuclear industry offer a silver lining to some of the darker clouds?

“There are numerous opportunities,” says Cllr Woodburn, “many of which hinge around the nuclear industry, but at the same time part of the difficulty lies in the direction of government.

“Things have to be turned around more quickly. We’re sitting here hoping for Mox 2 (at Sellafield); we’d also welcome and certainly want new-nuclear build (for which in turn we need a new grid power connection); we need a solution for the long-term disposal of nuclear waste. These are all at the whim of government.

“In many ways it is the domino effect – if one falls the others are put at risk.

“No community should be so dependent on government nor on public funding.

“One of my hopes is that our economy actually changes from being so reliant on the public sector and attracts more private sector investment.

“I do expect that will come on the back of more nuclear investment but what’s key for us is maximising those opportunities.

“In other words using the nuclear sector as the heart but getting the best value from the potential around it. Not putting all our eggs in one basket.”

This is a strong focus of the Britain’s Energy Coast Blueprint, which Cllr Woodburn acknowledges.

“People do want to see something visible from the plans and aspirations. At last the Albion Square (Whitehaven) development is visible, we will see improvements to Whitehaven Harbour and also at Rosehill. So it isn’t all negative.

“However, while there are positives, we can’t get away from the fact that Copeland is going to change and the community has to understand we are going to be different. It means that to help us, our partners have also to step up to the mark.”

Considerable amounts of money have been put into West Cumbria by Britain’s Energy Coast. But Cllr Woodburn believes money isn’t everything.

She says: “Money will build buildings but it won’t necessarily create jobs. The expectation is that while we’ve got this massive Sellafield (framework) contract I still think the industry needs to bring more to the table, ticking the socio-economic box is not a case of ‘here’s a bit of money go and spend it’.....it’s about leaving a legacy.

“Sellafield is doing a great job but money doesn’t and won’t solve all the issues. We have to be more self-sufficient. The only way is to generate our own money, our own economy.

“Part of it all has to be that the skills learned at Sellafield can be transferred into other industries. For example, I went down to Aldbury and the amount of steel coming out of there is massive, so if you look at what’s being generated on Sellafield and offshore there’s the potential to use those skills elsewhere and actually become that centre of excellence we all say we want.

“Now’s the time to stop the talking – and start delivering.”

BEC’s Economic Blueprint foreshadows a £90 billion investment from nuclear alone, but Cllr Woodburn says: “When you add it all up this is the potential, but securing it everything needs to fall into place and at the right time.

“Much is still up in the air. NuGen (our prospective power station developers) are doing their work towards making the new Moorside power station come to fruition, hopefully the consortium will come up with a positive financial decision by 2015, and I hope people outside Copeland support what needs to be done so if we generate new power for the nation we can actually get it out of the county.

“A lot more work needs to be done which makes it more difficult because we (in the council) are going to have fewer people to do it. Partnership is the key.”

Cllr Woodburn also has views on the potential for success of BEC’s Blueprint.

She says: “I think Britain’s Energy Coast is going through a change itself, moving from an organisation that helps financially into a more strategic role.

“We are fortunate to have as chairman Brian Wilson who has more contacts than I’ll ever know, the potential for him to open doors and for us to step in, so to speak, is invaluable. Likewise John Fyfe.

“It has to be a strategic group of people looking at ‘what do we want, what do we want West Cumbria to be’ in 10 years’ time.”

And she admits the local authorities must work together, saying: “We have to accept that there are different priorities – that does not infer any in-fighting.

“Copeland’s priority (and mine) is perhaps different to those of Allerdale. At the same time we have to be adults and ask what’s going to create the most jobs... what’s giving us the most potential?

“We have to recognise changes at Sellafield for instance and what the impact of those are going to be and make sure we have those areas covered.

“However I think we have moved on. These days I think we do behave differently, realising that there is more at risk, it’s not just one local authority or even an individual, it is our future we need to work together on. We are doing that.

“I think there is a rough ride ahead. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for the nuclear developments, but there isn’t a quick win or a quick medium process.

“Again the difficulty is that government at this moment in time is supporting nuclear but we’ve got to make sure that continues.

“We’ve got things like the Copeland Community Fund which are helping produce and deliver some really fantastic projects in the area.

“Employment wise we’ve recently had the 500 Sellafield jobs announcement, you’d like to think there’s more to come.

“We are not going to be in a position where everybody in West Cumbria has a job. I do think things will get worse before they get better, but hopefully they will get better.

“We do have some small local homegrown industries in the supply chain (REACT is an excellent example), companies who have used what they’ve learned at Sellafield and diversified into other areas.

“It’s a question of how best to support that kind of entrepreneurial spirit.”

So can West Cumbrian firms actually benefit from the major multi-national contracts being awarded at Sellafield?

Cllr Woodburn says: “I think we have to make sure the gap is narrowed. The difference with the framework contracts is that socio-economic benefits supporting the supply chain are built in.

“Our job is to make sure we monitor it and make Sellafield accountable for using the local supply chain. To them it surely must be just as important they have businesses on hand to provide what they need rather than go outside the area.

“I’m sure some of the big companies (like Morgan Sindall is already doing) will step up to the mark.

“We have openly said we have local people who need work and we will be expecting the majority of those jobs to be given to local people.”

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