The new Westmorland and Furness Council is marking its first 100 days in service with action to make good on its commitment to being a caring council.
The unitary authority took responsibility for all council services previously provided by Barrow Borough Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria County Council on 1 April.
In its first centenary of days, a priority has been to ensure residents have received continuous services as the new council beds in and starts its long-term journey of transformation.
Leaders of the authority said staff deserved credit for getting to grips with key tasks and ensuring vital services, such as children’s and adults social care, were not impacted by the changeover.
A team of 120 volunteer staff ‘Change Champions’ are now helping embed the values the council wish to see across the new organisation.
The group uses monthly forums and development sessions to be a catalyst for change. This month it’s looking at how the authority can meet its ambition to be a caring council, taking practical steps to demonstrate its commitment.
Chief Executive Sam Plum said: “Credit must go to all our staff who have worked incredibly hard to get us to this point. And special mention must be made for the Change Champions who are key to helping us bring our values to life.
“Being a caring council is the golden thread that runs through everything we want to do.
“That means caring about residents and supporting those that need it and empowering all to live independent and fulfilling lives. It also means caring about our staff and really listening to them to hear about what is working and what changes they would like to see. Together we can achieve so much.”
The first 100 days has seen a notable calendar of council activity including:
- The approval of £5m of new investment to be spent this year on 14 priority projects. They include funding for local areas, biodiversity and nature, sustainable transport, social care, children, culture and education. All the projects will be delivered by the end of March 2024.
- Showcasing growth and housing investment opportunities on the Furness peninsula and the wider Westmorland and Furness area at both the UK’s largest real estate exhibition and a high-profile event at the House of Lords.
- Planning permission secured for a once-in-a-generation scheme to transform the frontage of Barrow’s Market Hall, along with neighbouring entertainment venue The Forum. The work is key to a £17.5 million Levelling Up Fund scheme to attract people into the town centre.
- More than £500,000 invested to back an ambitious plan to make the area ‘smoke free’ by 2030, reducing by half the current figure of approximately 20,000 smokers in the area.
- A highways spending plan that includes £8.5 million earmarked for fixing potholes this year. The plan also includes more than £11 million for other road repairs and maintenance and £2.5 million for bridge maintenance.
- Work on a new policy for the introduction of 20mph speed limits after requests from communities across the area.
- A 100 per cent reduction in council tax for those on low incomes, which it is estimated could help more than 13,000 households.
- Establishing three Locality Boards – Eden, Furness and South Lakeland – to promote close working with communities. Each has a budget for schemes to improve the local area.
Councillor Jonathan Brook, Leader of the Council, said: “Launching a new council with new ways of doing things is not something that can be achieved overnight. Our staff have risen to the challenge magnificently and it has been impressive to see the dedication they have for residents.
“Our investments this year are focussed on the council’s priorities and reflect what residents have told us they would like to see happening.
“We must continue to balance having an impact for residents in the here and now while working towards our longer-term goals. We firmly believe Westmorland and Furness has a very bright future, with some unique opportunities ahead to make this an even better place to live, work and thrive.”
Westmorland and Furness Council is England’s third largest unitary authority by geographical area with approximately 225,000 residents, with 124,000 of working age (19 to 64).
The council recognises the importance of having enough people of working age to support the economy and deliver services. It wants to help key sectors to recruit and retain staff and encourage young people and families to live in the area.