LAST week I attended the Cumberland Council Economic Summit.

This was a worthwhile initiative that looked to link up some ideas about how we, as a region, can ensure future investment and economic regeneration – and I do credit the council for facilitating the event.

Economic growth and development are absolutely vital for our area if we are to create the prosperity we all want to see in our city and in the wider area.

To be successful, there are a number of key ingredients which all have to be in place, and I touched upon them in my contribution. These ingredients include – skills, infrastructure, the surrounding environment, attracting private sector investment, and probably the most important of all: leadership.

Leadership comes at all levels and from all institutions and organisations. One of the most vital institutions for leadership for us will be Cumberland Council itself. It is the council who can provide the needed example of leadership; by running an efficient and well organised institution, and by having a well-articulated vision for the area.

But this is where I am starting to have some serious concerns. Internally, the planning department of the council needs a complete overhaul. If businesses and individuals are to have confidence to invest, grow, and develop in Carlisle and Cumberland, they need to know the planning department will be proactive and effective.

If the planning department doesn’t enjoy the confidence of those looking to develop, investment will suffer.

However, my greatest concern revolves around the finances of the council itself. Very worryingly, Government ministers have recently confirmed that they are minded to support a request to capitalise more than £40million of council finances.

Effectively, this means the council is not properly balancing its books and is relying on central capital to pay for the day-to-day services we need in our area. On top of this, as a condition of the capital, the Government has declared that there will have to be an Independent Assurance Panel appointed.

This panel is there to ensure that the council addresses its financial issues in earnest and comes up with practical and sensible solutions to start balancing the books.

It should not have come to this, and the council need to be open and transparent about their position, and the plans that they have in place to correct this state of affairs.

Because failure to do so has two costs: first to us as the local taxpayer, meaning council tax rises, lost jobs, and diminished public services. And the second cost is to confidence in our area, undermining any of the council’s attempt to produce a vision and economic plan for the future in the first place.

Truly, neither cost is one we can afford to pay.