How can Lancashire ensure the whole county gains from economic growth?

Andrew Pettinger says Lancashire should not focus solely on its areas of economic strength
Andrew Pettinger says Lancashire should not focus solely on its areas of economic strength

Lancashire needs to focus on the kind of economic growth which benefits everyone in the county – rather than just on raw gains in productivity.

That was the message from a meeting of the region’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which heard that the county is ready to feature so-called “inclusive growth” in its emerging industrial strategy – if the government allows it.

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Members were told that the strategy had so far been “narrowly focused” on improving productivity – the efficiency and output of the economy – because that was what ministers under Theresa May’s administration had demanded.

“There is some talk…that there is the scope to broaden out the local industrial strategy (LIS) into something which is much wider,” interim LEP chief executive officer Andrew Pettinger said.

He added that inclusive growth was a priority for the county irrespective of its status in the LIS document which is currently being developed.

Paul Evans, from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said that the government understood that it is “difficult to talk about productivity gains without reference to social inclusion-type activity”.

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The county is currently in the process of drawing up a series of propositions to put ministers about what non-financial help the government could offer to improve productivity in Lancashire. These requests will then form the basis of LIS itself, which is due to be submitted by March 2020.

The document will focus on the four “grand challenges” facing the economy in the coming years – artificial intelligence and the data-driven economy, clean growth, the future of mobility and an ageing population.

LEP board member and Ribble Valley Borough Council leader Stephen Atkinson said the county had to decide whether it was going to pursue growth based on existing successes or identifying areas of spare capacity.

“I remember how much economic growth the M65 generated – if we look at where there has been growth [previously] and what triggered it, we may learn something,” Coun Atkinson said.

Andrew Pettinger said that the obvious areas on which to focus might not be the ones which serve the county best in the long term.

“At one level, it makes sense to focus on [our] strengths. But some of our strengths in Lancashire, such as manufacturing – particularly as [it] moves more towards advanced manufacturing – will [see] fewer job opportunities than there are now, even if productivity increases.

“That means you also have to look at new areas and opportunities for growth which we don’t already have – [they] may well build on strengths which we’ve already got, but aren’t necessarily [industries] at the top of their game at the moment,” Mr Pettinger said.

A consultation process to inform the drafting of the propositions has largely been completed and has generated five themes – creating a more agile and capable workforce; improving the supply chain in key industries; increasing the number and success of “start–up” and “scale-up” ventures; positioning Lancashire as a distinctive place for economic growth and productivity; and taking advantage of opportunities in the energy sector.