A caring council, delivering excellent services and with the communities it serves at the heart of all it does. These are the aims of a new local authority which takes over services in the Barrow, Eden and South Lakeland areas next year.
Councillors have today (Monday, 19 December) approved the historic first Council Plan for Westmorland and Furness Council, which outlines the key priorities, values and principles that will underpin how the council will work when it ‘goes live’ from 1 April 2023.
Building the new authority is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the way local government operates, making sure local communities are at the heart of everything the council does, that the new council delivers excellent services and at the same time creates efficiencies from more joined-up ways of working.
The Council Plan identifies some key challenges and opportunities for the new authority, which it will look to tackle through its policies and priorities.
These include the challenges of delivering services in sparsely populated areas and with an ageing population and declining work force, tackling health inequalities and the affordability and energy efficiency of housing. Opportunities identified include ways to help reduce the area’s and the council’s carbon footprint and enhance biodiversity and how to effectively utilise the diverse and distinctive communities across Westmorland and Furness.
The Council Plan outlines an overall vision to make Westmorland and Furness ‘A great place to live, work and thrive’,with a caring ethos running through all that it does.
The plan identifies seven key priorities for the new council to deliver that vision:
1. Supporting active, healthy happy lives for young and old - this means ensuring that people can thrive, leading fulfilling independent lives and thriving in their communities. It means supporting everyone to start well, live well and age well. It means maximising the potential of our natural environment for activity and recreation and improving public footpaths and cycleways and it means being ambitious for all children and young people.
2. Supporting people in need and reducing inequality This means ensuring that young people and adults are safeguarded and supported to lead fulfilling independent lives. It means being proactive in combatting all forms of discrimination. It means working with schools to ensure that young people have enough opportunities to access the best education. It also means supporting people in care and those who care for them.
For the Climate
3. Providing leadership in the drive to become carbon net zero - this means caring about the climate and the impact climate change is having, It means working to ensure that the council is carbon net zero as soon as possible and that the area it serves is carbon net zero by 2037. The council will address biodiversity loss by encouraging better land management, habitat creation, tree planting and net biodiversity gain in new development.
4. Confident, empowered, resilient communities - this means working closely with residents and businesses to help them to shape their own destiny and thrive. It means strong links with Parish and Town Councils, effective local representation and a thriving voluntary and third sector.
For the Economy and Culture
5. Sustainable, inclusive, economic growth - this means encouraging the growth that is essential to deliver high quality jobs and support the services which underpin quality of life. It means retaining young people and attracting investment and skilled people as well as supporting new businesses and the cultural economy.
For the council’s customers
6. At the heart of everything the council does - this means listening to community and customer needs and putting these at the heart of service delivery enabling them to access services and information easily using a channel of their choice.
For the council’s workforce
7. Confident, empowered, and inclusive workforce - a workforce that is innovative, engaged and customer focussed with a healthy working environment with a whole workforce focussed on delivering great services.
The Council Plan also contains the values that underpin how the council will work as part of being a caring council. The Council’s values are about being:
Ambitious for everyone - supporting the workforce to innovatively transform services for the better, enabling residents and visitors to have healthy, happy lives
Inclusive - working collectively with partners to challenge each other to improve diversity and eliminate all forms of discrimination in organisations and through local leadership increase participation in local decision making within underrepresented communities
Outcome focused - focusing on identifying and leading the delivery of the changes that our communities want to see
Collaborative – working with partners, communities, and residents to deliver the best outcomes for all
Responsible - socially, environmentally, and financially. Providing leadership in the drive to become carbon neutral and delivering value for money in all the council does, making most efficient use of resources
Needs-led – the council will intervene early to prevent harm, act in an equitable way leaving no-one behind, and will enable all to ask for help in order to gain access to the right service, in the right place at the right time
Ecologically aware – the council will provide leadership in the drive to become carbon net zero and sustainable.
The Council Plan has been finalised following discussions, comments and feedback from residents, businesses, organisations - including voluntary groups and parish and town councils - and staff from across the existing councils in Cumbria.
A consultation took place during August and September and feedback showed strong support for the plan overall, with 77% of responses supporting the vision, 73% supporting the values and 72% supporting the priorities.
Westmorland and Furness Council will continue to engage with residents, businesses and organisations during the first full year of the new council after ‘Vesting Day’ on 1 April 2023, as it develops the detailed strategies that will deliver the Council Plan priorities.
Leader of Westmorland and Furness Council, Councillor Jonathan Brook, said: “Defining our vision and priorities is vitally important as we build the identity of the new council.
“Westmorland and Furness Council is a brand new council. This provides a huge opportunity to create a fresh vision for our communities and residents, and work with them to deliver on that vision.
“We are an ambitious council, and we will place people at the heart of everything we do. We are ambitious for our communities and will work to enable all our villages and towns to thrive and for our residents to lead healthy, happy lives.
“Our natural environment provides opportunities for improving health and wellbeing and we will work hard to maximise those opportunities and to ensure that we protect our natural resources, striving to become net zero and addressing biodiversity loss.
“Most importantly, we are committed to working to ensure that Westmorland and Furness is a great place to live, work and thrive.
“By a great place to live we mean somewhere with strong local and community leadership, housing for all making best use of previously used land and existing buildings, empowered places, proud and resilient communities, a green and biodiverse environment, support for those that need it, when they need it and opportunities for children and young people to live healthy, happy lives
“As a great place to work we mean with a sustainable, inclusive, diverse economy with a growing workforce delivering opportunities for high quality jobs, learning, skills and enterprise, support to encourage business creation and improved infrastructure and connectivity.
“And as a great place to thrive we mean with opportunities for education, health and wellbeing, a diverse visitor offer and thriving cultural economy, support for all to start well, live well and age well and with early intervention to support people in need.’’
Councillor Brook continued: “Our first Council Plan is an important statement of intent, a document that provides a framework and a sense of direction for the new council. We believe our priorities really reflect what our communities want and need and that our vision captures our ambitions as a council.
“At this stage our Council Plan can’t include everything that the new council will be doing over the next few years. Much of that detail will come with the development of the strategies that sit underneath the vision and priorities, and we will be launching a comprehensive consultation exercise in the first full year of the new council to involve all our communities in that process to ensure this really does become ‘Your Plan’ for the future of Westmorland and Furness.’’
Westmorland and Furness Council will be England’s third largest unitary authority by area when it comes into effect next year. It will provide services to approximately 225,000 residents who are currently served by Barrow Borough, Eden District, South Lakeland District and Cumbria County councils, which are being abolished.
Westmorland and Furness Council is currently in ‘shadow’ form, as its councillors engage in the planning and preparation for Vesting Day on 1 April 2023, which includes the adoption of the Council Plan.
Until April 2023 all current services will continue to be delivered by the existing councils, overseen by the councillors on those councils.
To read more about the Westmorland and Furness Council Plan, see the ‘Your Council’ section of the website.
Printed copies of the Council Plan are available to pick up at main council office receptions and libraries in Barrow, Kendal and Penrith