A new group is to rise from the ashes of Furness Economic Development Forum to drive forward efforts to regenerate Barrow.

The Barrow Town Deal board is to take over the reins of securing funding for regeneration, infrastructure and skills projects designed to boost the economy in Barrow and Walney after it was revealed that FEDF has been formally wound up.

The group is to meet for the first time this month to set out how it will lead the area’s economic renaissance and has pledged to consult with the community in setting its priorities before submitting a funding bid to the Government in the summer.

Town Deals have been set up by the Government as its preferred way of areas bidding for funding for economy-boosting projects.

The Barrow Town Deal board will include representatives from Barrow Borough Council, Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, and Cumbria County Council along with local business, education and community groups and the recently elected MP for Barrow and Furness Simon Fell.

Praising the “excellent work” of FEDF – which helped to attract more than £21 million worth of investment into the wider Furness area and secured £8.5m to support skills development across the region’s workforce – leader of Barrow Borough Council, Ann Thomson, said: “The Town Deal offers exciting opportunities for regeneration, infrastructure and skills. 

“We look forward to consulting with residents about their priorities.”

The Barrow Town Deal board will take on the baton for a sizeable part of FEDF’s region of operation. But it is unclear who will lead the charge for the other parts of the Furness.

It has emerged that the decision to close FEDF – which brought together local business leaders and politicians – had been made at a meeting on December 18.

The body had no statutory powers and had received no financial support since its latest award from the Coastal Communities Fund ran out in the spring last year.

It was most recently chaired by Carl Bevan, formerly of Associated British Ports, and supported by programme and project manager Stuart Klosinski.

Mr Bevan said FEDF had played a “vital role” in not only securing funding and investment but lobbying for soon to be delivered upgrades to the A595 and A590 along with rail links since its creation in 2012.

“The FEDF strived to grow the regional economy, protect existing jobs and support businesses large and small, creating new job opportunities across sectors such as defence and manufacturing,” he said.

“There is still lots of important work to do of course but with significant committed investment by BAE Systems among others, and with recently announced Future High Street funding for Barrow and Millom, there are grounds for optimism for positive economic opportunities for the Furness region and South Lakes going forwards.”

Mr Klosinski, who has set up his own consultancy business, said he was delighted to have been at the forefront of delivering FEDF’s work, which also included support for supply chain businesses and innovation.

“Since its inception FEDF has supported GSK in facilitating the introduction of an enterprise fund, helped the area attract significant new energy-related inward investment and played an important role in helping to secure the Dreadnought programme.

“Overall, it has attracted millions of pounds of new resources since 2012, putting the area in a prime position to enable Furness to benefit further from 2020 onwards.”

Councillor Anne Burns of Cumbria County Council highlighted its impact on providing skills and training opportunities for young people, while FEDF board member and deputy principal for curriculum and quality at Furness College, Mark Nicholson, hailed its “greatest achievement” as the helping to secure funding for the college’s Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Centre.

“Close partnership working by the members of FEDF meant that the college was able to secure a £4.5 million investment in advanced manufacturing for the Barrow and Furness area,” he said.

“The centre provided the college with the capacity to deliver advanced, higher and degree apprenticeships to over 1,100 students at any one time.
“I would also like to pay tribute to Stuart Klosinski for the tireless way that he worked for our community over many years to secure sustained employment and skills for so many in Furness.”

FEDF – itself established after Furness Enterprise closed when its funding dried up – was established by former MP John Woodcock as part of its ambition to see the region recognised as “a national cradle for advanced manufacturing”.

Saying it had achieved “some big successes in a difficult national climate”, Mr Woodcock added:  “The way FEDF members representing several different industries forged a shared economic vision and spoke with one voice made a positive contribution to national decisions like the Dreadnought contract and the investment now promised to transform Barrow town centre. 

“It has also played a big role in getting the flagship Marina Village housing plan out of the deep freeze and reigniting our area’s ambition for a coordinated Furness tourist economy drive. 

“There is of course so much still to be done to secure Furness’s economic future and I welcome the leadership Sam Plum (chief executive of Barrow Borough Council) is showing to re-shape things so local momentum on vital economic development is not lost.”

FEDF Highlights

  • £4.5m for the Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Centre at Furness College
  • £2m of Coastal Communities Funds from central Government
  • Helping establish the £500,000 GSK Enterprise Fund to mitigate the impact of job losses at its Ulverston site
  • Support for local business to secure work with off-shore windfarm operators, BAE Systems Submarines and in the construction of the £11m Holiday Inn hotel in Barrow
  • Securing warehouse and office development at Waterfront Business Park