This week we exited the latest lockdown, although I appreciate that for very many it will not feel like it. We are now subject to tier two restrictions which will continue to impact a number of businesses and individuals in Copeland.

As local authority, we are doing all we can to deliver the financial support to those businesses by turning round grant applications as quickly as possible. If they have not done so already, I urge all businesses impacted by these continuing restrictions to make contact with the council to check if you are eligible for financial support – or for further financial support if you have previously been a recipient of a government grant.

I will be recording a podcast this morning with Janet Sinnott – our revenues team leader – which will be available for viewing on social media and YouTube from lunchtime today, detailing all the latest information on grants and eligibility.

With the recent good news on the vaccine and infection rates beginning to fall, we are hopefully in the last stages of this pandemic and a return to normal life is in sight. But I am acutely aware the recovery from the various impacts of this pandemic will be very challenging, and the council – and all of our councillors, employees, partners and volunteers – are focused on providing as much support to our businesses, employers and residents as possible. We are reaching out to the members of the community and urging them to get in touch if they are suffering from hardship as a result of financial or emotional pressures, in particular those who are in a situation of domestic abuse.

In the coming weeks, I will be launching the Copeland Vision and our corporate strategy and will be very much hoping to be reporting on a successful outcome for our Future High Street Fund, Towns Fund and Borderlands bids which, alongside a number of other exciting developments, will help drive our post-Covid economic recovery. I remain very optimistic that there are good times ahead for West Cumbria.

Next week, Copeland Council – in conjunction with our neighbours at Allerdale – will submit a proposal to Government for local government reform in Cumbria which, if implemented, would see the number of local authorities in Cumbria reduced from seven councils to two unitary councils.

The model being proposed in our submission would see Copeland merge with Allerdale and Carlisle City Council as one council with responsibility for all services in the area; the other being an eastern authority which would merge Eden, South Lakeland and Barrow. There will be much more detail and discussion to follow on this subject in the coming weeks and months.

As this is my last column before Christmas, I’d like to wish everybody a safe happy Christmas and, hopefully, a much better 2021 for everyone.