Westmorland and Furness Council thanks communities and staff for support in first year

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The chief executive of Westmorland and Furness Council has thanked communities, partners and staff for their support as the authority celebrates its first year of operation.

Easter Monday marks the anniversary of the unitary authority taking over the running of services from four predecessor councils.

The year has seen a focus on bedding in services and setting out an agenda for how it wants to work with communities. That initial 12 months closed on a high with the Prime Minister announcing more than £200 million of investment over the next decade to ensure Barrow thrives as the home of UK nuclear submarine-building.

Westmorland and Furness Council’s Chief Executive Sam Plum said the Government announcement had topped off an incredibly busy and rewarding year and demonstrated that working with partners on making the area ‘a great place to live, work and thrive’ would bring rewards.

Sam said: “To have the Government commitment to Barrow confirmed has been a great way to round off our first year as a new council.

“We know there’s a great opportunity in Barrow to make transformational change a reality. We have worked really hard over this first year – with the Government and BAE Systems – to secure that level of long-term investment.”

Sam said it highlighted the importance of working together on the area’s biggest issues – and why she wanted to thank many different groups for their support and work over the last 12 months.

She said: “I am tremendously proud of all that has been achieved by our teams and partners over this first year. My biggest takeaway from the year is one of gratitude for the commitment and dedication that everyone has put in to start us off on this journey.

“The pre-work we did ensured that we were able to operate safely and legally from day one and we’ve kept up the pace right through the first 12 months. We knew that bringing four councils into one was not a simple task and not something that could be completed in a single year. But we have built some very firm foundations to launch the transformation we want to see.”

Year two promises to be equally challenging but Sam is keen for the council to be able to show improvements where it is placing focus.

She added: “As we’ve progressed, we’ve talked a lot about putting communities at the centre of all we do and that working collaboratively with our communities and partners to create vibrant places for everyone is something we are very focussed on.

“When I get out into our fantastic towns and villages I see 'community power' everywhere. Dozens and dozens of people getting involved and giving up their time to make their places happier, more connected and more resilient. It’s part of what makes Westmorland and Furness the incredible place it is.

“One of our biggest roles is to enable all that skill, enterprise and community spirit to deliver maximum benefit for Westmorland and Furness.

“We also want to do more to enable and encourage inclusive, green growth across W&F, and we want to continue to prioritise our natural environment.”

Other highlights of the first year have included showcasing the area at UKREiiF, the UK’s biggest developer and investor conference. Representatives will be returning in May to ensure Westmorland and Furness remains in the spotlight.

The council also made a commitment for the area to be smoke free by 2030 and backed that commitment with investment in smoking cessation programmes, hosted a celebratory children in care awards and put £3m into a road resurfacing programme.

Last summer the council’s Cabinet announced £5m in priority investments and the council signed up to a new armed forces covenant, guaranteeing that serving personnel, veterans and military families are treated fairly and not disadvantaged. It also launched its climate action plan.

A multi-million pound investment into restoration of Grange Lido and Promenade followed and work started on a £6m expansion at Sandgate School in Kendal. Plans for a 2MW solar farm to be built on council land at Barrow were given the go ahead and Cabinet approved 20mph speed limits to improve community safety.

In late 2023, the council opened its first family hub for Barrow and Furness, a second followed in Dalton, and there was a roll out of 100 warm spots to support the most vulnerable.

In 2024, the council took over management of the much-loved Coronation Hall in Ulverston and work started on the creation of the Brilliant Barrow new event space. The authority was also able to deliver on its pledge to widen future opportunities for young people with the recruitment starting for more than 30 apprentice positions.