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Thursday, 18 September 2014

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‘We must not be over reliant on the N-industry for funds’

THE nuclear industry should not be seen as “a white knight” that can rescue all of Copeland’s under-threat services, a public meeting has heard.

In a bid to find partners to run its at-risk services and facilities, including The Beacon and Whitehaven Civic Hall, Copeland Council leader Elaine Woodburn says she and her colleagues are “knocking on every door – including nuclear ones”.

However, Coun Woodburn added that neither the community nor the council can expect the nuclear industry to simply plug the funding gap.

“It’s about finding a balance and not becoming over-reliant on the nuclear industry. If places are to survive, they need to be self-sufficient and not rely entirely on the council, or anyone else, funding them.

“Who’s to say what future governments will decide about nuclear. Funding could be agreed now, but then pulled a few governments down the line – and we’d be back to square one.”

Pat Graham, the council’s head of services, added: “We expect the nuclear industry to play its part, but it won’t be a white knight that will save the day. They don’t have a blank cheque and can’t underwrite the whole economy. It’s about the business sector and the voluntary sector doing its bit.”

Monday’s public meeting at The Beacon was the first in a series to explore the options following last month’s bombshell announcement that Copeland must save £2.6 million by 2015. It proposes to stop or reduce funding to the services it doesn’t legally have to provide, and is seeking residents, businesses and community groups to come forward and take them over.

For The Beacon, Copeland says that it can no longer afford to pay the £450,000-a-year it costs to run it.

The council plans to save £104,000 by April 2014 by reducing the museum’s opening hours and ceasing to fund educational and cultural events. If no partner organisation is found to run the facility with Copeland by this date, it will close. If it closes, the museum’s collection will go into storage.

Celia MacKenzie, chief executive of Whitehaven Harbour Commissioners, said: “Visitor attractions, as a whole, don’t make money. We need to help The Beacon find alternative revenue. It needs to be run as a business and stand on its own two feet.”

Shelley Williamson, a Whitehaven businesswoman and chair of the Town Team, said that The Beacon can be saved however – if more people use it and it is made more profitable and subsequently more appealing to potential new partners. “We can turn this around,” she said. “I say to people ‘go to The Beacon and tell your friends to go to The Beacon’. That’s how things will change.”

The meeting heard from a number of residents who claimed that it would be “devastating” for Whitehaven if the facility was to close.

Coun Woodburn revealed that the council is in discussion with a number of organisations with a view to keeping The Beacon open, albeit with possible changes to the way it operates.

“We are in conversation after conversation with potential partners and we are fighting to keep this facility here,” she said. “We agree with everything that has been said; it is a fantastic asset for Whitehaven and Copeland and we are doing our damnedest to keep it.

“But we have got to the point where drastic options like this are the only way we can make the savings we have to. We simply can’t afford to keep paying out what we’re paying out.”

Copeland was accused by a number of people of historically wasting money on consultants and failed projects, and the number of councillors the authority has (51) was also questioned.

Coun Woodburn said that, in her personal opinion, 51 is too many and the council has asked for this to be reviewed by the decision-making Boundary Commission, but has been told that the earliest this can take place is 2015.

Other proposed cuts include cancelling Christmas lights from 2015, closing public toilets and stopping doorstep recycling of plastic and cardboard. The consultation ends on December 7 and decisions taken in February.

Meanwhile, a closure-threatened toilet block in Millom will stay open, a council has vowed.

Members of Millom Town Council vowed to make up the £2,000 needed for the upkeep of the St George’s Road toilet block. Coun Frank McPhillips said: “We’re not closing the toilets. We’ve no intention of letting it happen.”

Further public meetings are planned into the proposals. Yesterday there was a meeting for users of Cleator Moor Bowls and Sports Centre; Copeland MP Jamie Reed has called a public meeting for Friday (7pm) at Whitehaven Civic Hall to discuss the cuts as a whole; then on Thursday, November 22, users of Whitehaven Civic Hall are invited to the venue at 5pm to air their views on its potential closure.

Copeland Council’s own series of drop-in sessions for more information on all the proposed cuts begins at Millom Network Centre on November 20 (6pm to 7.30pm) then the following day at Cleator Moor Civic Hall (2pm to 4pm) and Seascale Methodist Church (6.30pm to 8.30pm).

Have your say

It's all very well saying "go to The Beacon, and tell your friends to go," but once you've been - you've been, and, to be honest the quality is not that good - it feels very dated in its presentation. I sent a friend of mine who was working in the area on a short-term contract and his response was "that place is awful".

One of the biggest mistakes was to use The Beacon to house social history on families such as the Lowthers when Lowther Castle was sitting there - it was a ready made museum in the form of Castle that would have attracted visitors if it had been correctly preserved and presented, plus there could have been events in the grounds. But instead a load of rich ex-councilors and Sellafield pensioners live there. Copeland never preserves its past, never has foresight to look to its future so we become stuck in a dwindling present that feels the same year in year out.

Posted by Let's be Honest. on 15 November 2012 at 12:52

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