Austerity has hurt Copeland – there’s no doubt about that. We could see it coming; like a slow-moving train wreck that was bound to hit us. Some of you might remember that I held a public meeting on what austerity would mean for Copeland. Only a hundred or so people turned up; but every dire prediction I made has sadly come to pass. When government cuts take the budget of Copeland Council from approximately £15m to approximately £7m we were bound to suffer. Consider on top of this that only 10p of every pound you pay in Council Tax goes to Copeland Council and the financial crisis is clear to see.
At the same meeting, I said that our best days were ahead of us, that we had plan not just simply to help us cope with austerity, but to turn our area around completely. Austerity has acted as an anchor on our ambitions. Progress has been slower than any of us have wanted, but Copeland is fighting back and the signs are there for all to see.
The Albion Square development is going to be superb for Whitehaven town centre as is the redevelopment of the YMCA. The re-opening of The Beacon – in better shape now than it has ever been – is a good example of smart thinking between Sellafield Ltd and Copeland Council. The new hospital set to open later this year (despite the problems inflicted upon it by government) should act as a clean slate and a chance to recruit more doctors and nurses and establish a model of health care precisely tailored to meet the needs of our community. The plans to develop a new school campus in Whitehaven in spite of the government’s cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme should excite everyone and the proposed new nuclear reactors at Moorside inch closer every day. In addition to this – perhaps most significantly of all – the projected ‘jobs cliff’ at Sellafield which was set to see thousands of Sellafield workers made redundant from 2012 onwards has been seen off. We are in a different place and Sellafield looks set to recruit for a long time into the future. The National Nuclear Laboratory and the Dalton Facility at Westlakes are helping to catapult us into exciting, new territory and the opportunities inherent in this for our community are enormous.
None of this has happened by accident, all of this has happened because we had a plan to deliver these developments and that’s before this week’s news of a potential return to mining in Whitehaven and the surrounding areas and the potential creation of 500 jobs.
I took the Northern Editor from the Guardian newspaper around Whitehaven last week. She was keen to point out what an attractive town we have and that compared to other towns facing austerity, we’re in a good position. It’s all a matter of perspective.
But I don’t think that’s true. In my opinion, there isn’t a town of our size anywhere in Britain with the opportunities that we have, receiving the kind of investment that we are. Austerity has hurt. It will hurt for a while yet, but our best days are ahead of us.
It’s time to take some pride in our town, and to be optimistic about our future.