The outgoing boss of Sellafield Limited has urged Cumbria to “get organised” if it is to realise its economic potential.

Speaking at a meeting of business membership organisation Britain’s Energy Coast on Wednesday, Paul Foster called for leaders in the county to develop a clear vision that major players in the county, such as Sellafield Ltd, could “put its shoulder behind”.

Mr Foster – who is due to step down from the high-profile role at the end of January – also challenged the county to shed its “pit mentality” and see major employers as “economic anchors” and not “the answer” to realising its ambitions.

In an outspoken speech dubbed “musing and ramblings”, Mr Foster told around 200 delegates gathered at Energus in Lillyhall: “Cumbria could have a great future if it was organised.

“At the moment there's not a lot of vision. The vision seems to be what we've had in the last and a bit more of it please.

“We very much have a pit mentality of a dominant employer. If anything happens it is their fault and they are responsible for evening. That's not healthy.

“We (Sellafield Ltd) have our own vision, not one for the local community and economy. Sellafield is a thing, an economic entity, it is not going to be an answer or solution to anything or provide a vision, it is here to support.

“Sellafield is looking for a vision to put its shoulder behind.

“Are you going to wait for Government, Cumbria County Council, Copeland Council, Cumbria Chamber, the LEP, NDA?

“If you think someone is going to do this for you, I will tell you about the tooth fairy and Santa.

“We can change this region ourselves, but we need to organise. Somebody needs to take hold of it but at the moment there isn't anyone.

“The future is positive but won't happen unless we organise.”

Mr Foster raised eyebrows with several comments, asking for the media in attendance – namely in-Cumbria – to quote him in context, having felt that he had not been in the past.

Referring to the abandoned proposals for a £12m sports stadium in Workington – which included plans for office accommodation for Sellafield Ltd staff – he said: “Whatever you think of the stadium project, Allerdale had a vision, and one we could back.”

He admitted morale at the complex nuclear site in West Cumbria, which supports in the region of 10,000 jobs, had “never been lower” but added that attrition levels remained low at 1.5 per cent a year.

Mr Foster also said Sellafield Ltd’s budget of £2.15 billion for the year was higher than anticipated and had helped retain 1,200 more jobs.

However, he added, the workforce will reduce over time with the end of reprocessing at the site, with its extensive supply chain taking on any losses, and stressed it was committed to taking on a record 150 apprentices a year in addition to supporting 50 community apprenticeships in the area annually.

And Mr Foster expressed his desire to see the work at the Sellafield site have a greater impact on the local economy, urging the supply chain to make the most of the 20-year or more, £7bn Programme and Project Partners (PPP) framework unveiled last year.

“A huge amount of what we do looks like it is done in Cumbria but is actually done elsewhere,” he said.

“That means while Gross Domestic Product would be quite high, GMP (Gross Metropolitan Product – the monetary value of a product in a specific area) is quite low.

“That leaves a massive opportunity in areas like operational consumables, professional services, IT. This isn't exotic stuff. We can do a lot more locally.

“About 10 per cent of what we do is nuclear, 40 per cent industrial and 50 per cent is ‘stuff’.

“There may be a nuclear badge on what we do and that makes it appear special, but only 10 per cent is special. There is no such thing as a nuclear sector.

“We have more in common with HS2 and Crossrail than we do with EDF Energy.”

Reflecting on his time as chief executive Mr Foster – who was recently awarded a CBE in the 2020 New Year Honours list for his services to the world of business – added: “The last five years has been interesting. It has been a privilege to do it.

“I will miss the engineering, economic and social challenge, but five years is more than enough.”

His impact was praised by BECBC chairman Ivan Baldwin.

“We've seen a massive change in the behaviour and attitudes of the people on the site and willingness to engage with the business community,” he said.