Ed Miliband, c Stuart Walker Photography via Cumberland Council

Shadow secretary Ed Miliband was the keynote speaker at the summit on 29 February. Credit: Stuart Walker Photography

Cumberland Economic Summit: 5 takeaways

More than 300 local residents, councillors, business owners, property professionals, and MPs gathered together on 29 February to discuss the future for the Cumbria local authority.

Held at the Civic Centre in Carlisle, the first-ever Cumberland Economic Summit played up Cumberland Council’s promise to be a collaborative local government, one that works with the private sector to accomplish its goals.

Shadow secretary of state for energy security and net zero Ed Miliband was the keynote speaker of the day, sharing his views on how a future Labour government would help the region.

He was one of several speakers who played up Cumberland’s potential.

Cumberland Council Leader Cllr Mark Fryer said: “I think we have some huge challenges ahead of us but also some fantastic opportunities. I really do feel that we really can make a difference if we act collectively and consistently and together.”

Place North West was on the scene, soaking up the discussion and, as always, taking notes. Here are our five key takeaways from the day’s main speeches.

Cumberland Council is ready to work.

Leader Cllr Mark Fryer spoke about the difference the new local authority can make, providing a fresh start. “For too long we failed to agree amongst our selves on how we transform ourselves…” he told the crowd. “Local government reorganisation presents us with a chance to put that right. For the new councillors a chance to be strategic, yet local – a strong voice, a better listener, facilitator, enabler, and deliverer.”

While acknowledging that a new local authority has helped make Cumberland stronger, Jon Stevenson MP said more needed to be done. “We are going to miss out if we don’t have an elected Mayor of Cumbria,” he said.

Cumberland is done with waiting.

Likening the repeated bidding for funding pots to being on a hamster wheel, Fryer said the national programme for levelling up was not working for Cumberland.

“The national approach for funding for economic development and regeneration is not delivering what we need and what we want in our area,” he said, adding later: “It doesn’t give us the stability, long-term security and flexibility that we need to keep pace with the national economy.”

Fryer would pick up the theme later as he spoke about having an inclusive economy.

“We can’t wait for government to fix it all the time for us – if we want to progress, if we want to grow, if we want a modern economy that offers opportunity to all, then we need to work together to make sure that happens,” he said.

Cllr Mark Fryer, Cumberland Council, c Stuart Walker Photography via Cumberland Council

Leader Cllr Mark Fryer was optimistic about the future of Cumberland. Credit: Stuart Walker Photography

Cumberland is ready to be a ‘clean-energy powerhouse’.

With its nuclear energy expertise and decarbonisation commitments, Fryer said Cumberland was well-placed for the future.

“The next great economic revolution will come as a result of the changes in our climate,” Fryer said. “Few places are in a better place to be at the forefront of innovation and progress in that sector than we are here in Cumberland. We have a real opportunity to create green job opportunities as we transition to net zero.”

Shadow secretary Miliband echoed the sentiment and said Labour was committed to helping the authority achieve that ambition. “I am determined to work with you to make this area the clean-energy superpower I know it can be,” he said.

Cumberland has ‘down payments’ from Labour.

Miliband made a series of promises, which he called “downpayments”, to those in the audience. If his party wins the election and he stays as secretary of state, Miliband said that Labour would support all types of green energy – including nuclear. In fact, he said the party would echo the Conservative’s support for new nuclear plants, adding that Cumbria’s Moorside location would make for a good location for a new plant.

Other promises included £13.2bn in the next Parliament to tackle fuel poverty through home insulation and £1.8bn to upgrade ports. Port of Workington, Miliband said, would be an “ideal candidate” for this type of investment. Miliband encouraged those in the audience to hold him to account for these promises should the next general election end in Labour’s favour.

Cumberland’s growth may be hampered by connectivity.

Throughout the conference, panellists recognised Cumberland’s big weaknesses – transport and digital infrastructure. The need for improvements to the West Coast Line was referenced, as well as upgrading of the A595 – one of the area’s main thoroughfares.

The good news is that progress is being made. On the road front, council chief executive Andrew Seekings said it had £14.3m to fix up the A595 and A5086. The additional £149m promised to Cumberland as part of Network North was welcomed as well, although council officers noted it was not enough to be truly transformational. Another £2.5m has been allocated for improving buses in the area. Four hub towns in Cumbria are also taking part in a pilot for a programme that would have a series of vehicles available to help residents get from point A to point B. These towns in Cumbria include Penrith, Egremont-St Bees, Ulverston, and Wigton.


Your Comments

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A lot of potentially positive developments there, but I’m confused by the reference at the end to Cumberland Council’s pilot schemes in four hub towns, two of which are not in its boundaries (Ulverston and Penrith, though Penrith should be). The scheme itself sounds like another pôtential positive, but the geography is another sign of the confusion that has reigned in Cumbria since the council reorganisation (cf my reference to Penrith being put under Westmorland and Furness council).

By Pat Pepper

    Hi Pat! A reporter error here, have adjusted the sentence to be more accurate.

    By Julia Hatmaker

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