For Sam Plum all of the functions of local government boil down to one thing; making people’s lives better.

Sam, who has been the chief executive of Barrow Borough Council for the last two years, is one of a number of women in important positions at an authority where two of its directors are female alongside its head of legal and governance.

This is in addition to council leader Ann Thomson and leader of the opposition Hazel Edwards.

“Ann talks about how we lead with love and compassion and kindness and a big message during Covid has been about how we wrap our arms around our residents,” says Sam.

“There are male chief execs who are leading in a similar way and so it’s not gender-based. But I do wonder sometimes if it’s because of the bias towards female leadership we’ve got.”

Originally from Pendle, in Lancashire, Sam has worked in local government for over 25 years. She began her career in environmental and countryside

management before moving into work with Coventry City Council around how it could develop partnership working on issues such as recycling, biodiversity loss and energy efficiency.

Immediately before moving to Barrow, Sam was director of communities at Rossendale Borough Council.

“I had ideas of what I thought local government needed to do and I couldn’t always get my own way so I ended up moving up so I had more influence and opportunity to do the things I wanted to do,” she says.

“The public sector are servants of the public and we’re here to ensure our residents get the best life chances they can have.

“We’re the only organisation in the public sector that’s got a democratic mandate to be there for the borough and really champion it and make sure its people and businesses get the best for themselves.

“A lot of my role is about building relationships and championing all the good things about Barrow but being really cognisant of the problems we’ve got in the area.”

She says chief among these are issues such as health inequality, deprivation and poverty.

“It’s part of my role to galvanise the right partners to work on some of those issues,” she says.

“It’s very much a kind of convening and place-shaping role and being clear about the big vision for the area, what it can achieve and where it wants to go, and how we create momentum around those agendas.”

As well as acting as a bridge between the council members and its salaried staff to implement changes, she says part of her role is making sure the NHS, Cumbria County Council and the police - whose spend outstrips the council’s in the borough - are working with it towards a common goal.

When it comes to business, Barrow is unusual in having one hugely dominant employer, with BAE Systems’ shipyard making up nearly 10,000 of the 32,000 jobs in the area.

“The fortunes of the residents rise and fall on the fortunes of the shipyard,” says Sam.

At present, with the shipyard investing heavily as it works on the Royal Navy’s new Astute and Dreadnought class submarines, the fortunes of the shipyard look very positive.

However, Sam says Barrow cannot afford to depend too much on one business and it must be remembered that BAE needs a strong town to attract the skilled people required to keep the yard working

“If Barrow doesn’t have a really good town centre, doesn’t have a thriving housing market, doesn’t have a good education sector they are never going to be able to attract the kind of people they need in the yard,” she says.

With this in mind the council has been working on destination marketing to try and remove some of the negative images of the town.

Last year it also secured £25m from the Government’s Towns Fund for its #BrilliantBarrow project, with Barrow’s Town Deal board chaired by Steve Cole, chief infrastructure officer at BAE Systems.

Plans include a programme of business support for residents, entrepreneurs and SMEs, as well as for a new learning quarter comprising a University of Cumbria campus and a skills hub for sixth form students.

Other projects include the development of a calendar of events to draw people to the area, housing renewal and creating new cycling and walking infrastructure.

“Having a university campus in Barrow will enable our young people to get higher education if they want it and it will bring in young people who want a university life,” says Sam.

Beyond the shipyard, she says the town is well-placed for job creation linked to renewable and sustainable energy production.

The Port of Barrow is already an important site for servicing offshore wind farms in the Irish Sea, with the Government vowing to quadruple offshore wind power capability within the next decade.

Sam says she believes the town could also become a centre of hydrogen production, using a combination of seawater and electrolysis driven by wind power.

At the same time Barrow Borough, alongside South Lakeland District and Lancaster City councils, is waiting to see if it will even exist at all by the end of 2023.

Last year the trio submitted their full business case to the Government for forming a new unitary authority around Morecambe Bay, with a second unitary in the north consisting of Copeland, Allerdale, Carlisle and Eden, with a decision expected by the end of the summer.

Sam says even if the unitary vision is rejected the councils will continue to push for a growth deal around Morecambe Bay, similar to the Borderlands project in the north of the county.

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t be arguing for an economic growth deal in the same way whatever happens with local government reorganisation,” she says.