Businesses have been urged to take control of Cumbria’s nuclear-fuelled renaissance to help realise its full economic and social potential.

Jamie Reed, head of development and community relations at Sellafield Ltd, said more “industrial activism” was needed if Cumbria was to capitalise on development in the county, and seize opportunities to export its expertise around the world.

Speaking to delegates in the first of four warm-up events leading up to the second Cumbria Nuclear Conference to be hosted by Carlisle MP John Stevenson in September, he said success ultimately laid in the hands of businesses and not a “stretched” public sector.

“There is no shortage of vision in Cumbria, the issue is governance,” he told around 60 representatives from businesses and organisations gathered at Rosehill Theatre and Conference venue on Thursday evening.

“We need to create a bigger private sector in Cumbria and can’t rely on public sector ad nauseum and ad infinitum. The private sector needs to give more of a damn.

“Sellafield is at the forefront of the nuclear sector since and we have developed unique and special skills. Around £2 billion is spent on the Sellafield site each year. Yet for every £1 spent there, £1.30 goes in to the local economy and frankly it is not enough – we need to get more bang for our buck.

“The private sector knows how to deliver things more effectively and efficiently. We need to utilise their expertise and stop and stop trying to solve problems with the same solution. But I am convinced that our best days are ahead of us.”

Mr Reed said that Sellafield Ltd’s business would shift dramatically in 2020 when reprocessing is due to stop, leaving it with 2,000 surplus jobs. However, he stressed there was a “no redundancy policy” and that staff were being retrained, re-skilled and redeployed in to the supply chain.

Cumbria is home to around over a third of the UK’s civil nuclear work, employing more than 27,000 people. As well as the on-going decommissioning work at the Sellafield, there are proposals for a new nuclear power station at Moorside and the potential for both near surface and deep geological storage for nuclear waste.

Meanwhile, Cumbrian companies are already exporting their expertise to Europe, the United States, Japan, South Korean and China.

Copeland MP Trudy Harrison, said there was “no alternative to nuclear” but said that stronger leadership was needed to ensure Cumbria and its businesses and communities benefitted from being at the centre of the industry.

“I’m fuelled with pride and ambition for the area – it is essential we leave a legacy,” she said, stressing the need for investment in local roads, including Whitehaven Relief Road; rail, to support increased weekday and new Sunday services along the Cumbria Coast Line between Carlisle and Carnforth; and digital infrastructure.

“There is a potential £250 billion market out there by 2020, and we should be going for it. But my frustration is I don’t see the leaders or project managers who can set out what we want to achieve and how we will get there.”

Craig Hatch, divisional director for Asset and Project Management at professional services firm WYG, said the company had been attracted to Cumbria 30 years ago by the “nuclear pound” and had grown from two staff to 70. Cumbria now represents one twentieth of WYG’s global turnover as a result of work on projects including Albion Square, Energus, Whitehaven Academy, and as part of the Cumbria Nuclear Services Ltd consortium.

He said better leadership was needed in the public sector, but agreed the private sector should take the baton.

“We have a small but quite tight business community in Cumbria, in particular West Cumbria, and that gives us a springboard,” he said.

“At the end of the day however, it is our communities, our staff and their children who stand to benefit from what happens here. We have a social contract with Cumbria.”

John Stevenson MP, said the nuclear conference had three aims – to promote the nuclear sector across Cumbria, to promote it to businesses and political leaders outside the county, and for Cumbria to speak with “one voice”.

He said Cumbria needed fewer councillors, fewer councils and should have accepted the offer a devolution deal. He added that Cumbria Local Enterprise had had a “bumpy road to say the least” but that investment in the county and the prospect of the Moorside nuclear power station provided signs of a “positive future.”

“We have to come together to promote all of Cumbria’s interests and appreciate that developments in one part of the county, whether that is in Carlisle or West Cumbria, can benefit the whole,” added Mr Stevenson.

Issues including skills and the need to increase the gender balance within companies, not just in the nuclear sector, were also debated during a questions and answers session.

The Cumbria Nuclear Conference, sponsored by the Centre for Nuclear Excellence, NuGen, WYG and UCLan, will take place on September 21.