THE leader of the council says the authority needs to ‘build on the great progress made in 2023’ in the new year.

The leader of Westmorland and Furness Council, councillor Jonathan Brook (Kendal South, Lib Dems) has spoken of his outlook for the new year.

Cllr Brook said: “We have to build on the great progress achieved in 2023. We also know that full integration of services will take years rather than months. We cannot transform all of the council’s services immediately. So, we need to prioritise the integration of different functions from the former councils, join up IT systems and agree new policies and procedures.

“Only when this work is complete, will we see the full benefits, efficiencies and savings, afforded by the reorganisation process. But I believe we are on the right path.

“We do have some exciting opportunities, with ‘Town Deal’ and ‘Levelling Up’ funding for Kendal and Barrow, and the Rural Enterprise Hub project in Penrith and Borderlands funding for Ulverston, Dalton and Penrith, set to deliver significant economic benefits across the whole area.”

The leader of the council also spoke of the challenges the authority faced in 2023 and said progress has only been possible due to the ‘dedication’ of staff and members.

Cllr Brook added: “We have set up a brand new council with all that entails, transferring over 3,500 staff, combining services, developing new policies and procedures, all while continuing to deliver services to our communities.

“This is a massive job and although the council is only nine months old, we are well on the way to creating the organisation and culture, that will help us to achieve our vision of making Westmorland and Furness a great place to live, work and thrive.

“We have done this whilst facing the challenges of local government financing, the cost of living crises, a shortage of staff in key areas and emergencies such as the recent storms, snow events and Covid recovery.

“Our progress has only been possible, through the dedication of staff and members and close working with our many partners.”

The councillor for Kendal South also spoke of the achievements of the authority in 2023.

Cllr Brook said: “We have created a brand-new functioning unitary council on time and on budget. Established three new locality Boards: Eden, Furness and South Lakeland to promote close working with communities."

The councillor added in 2023 the authority invested £1.1m to ensure young person eligible for free school meals received meals during the summer holidays and reduced the social work waiting list by almost 50 per cent.