'Big projects should benefit Central Lancashire locals,' council leaders say

Should schemes like the Penwortham bypass be set up to benefit businesses in the area?
Should schemes like the Penwortham bypass be set up to benefit businesses in the area?

More of the money invested in infrastructure projects funded by the Preston and South Ribble City Deal should benefit local businesses – and the people who work for them.

That was the message from the leaders of the two neighbouring Central Lancashire authorities at the heart of the £434m scheme, which has been behind projects like the Broughton and Penwortham bypasses.

READ MORE >>> Work begins on new Preston-M55 link road

But Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown told a City Deal board meeting that members needed to “go a bit further” in making sure that the spending delivered benefits to individuals – and not just the area as a whole.

“I would like to see more targeting of the most deprived areas and those with the highest unemployment – and an attempt to employ a percentage of workers from those areas [on City Deal schemes].

“What we have done so far is good, but we’ve got to make sure as much [of the investment] as possible filters down – and that the workers are treated well, too. Through the supply chain, [construction companies] find ways of avoiding giving people the terms and conditions which they would do otherwise,” Cllr Brown added.

Meanwhile, South Ribble Borough Council leader Paul Foster warned that the board had to “keep an eye on” how companies performed once they had been awarded City Deal contracts.

“It’s our job to make sure contractors deliver – because they can say anything to win the contract. It’s a competitive environment and they know what they need to say [to be successful],” Cllr Foster said.

The City Deal was agreed with the government back in 2013 and aims to create 17,000 new homes and 20,000 new jobs in the area. It is currently undergoing a review about the next stage of its delivery.

Board chair Jim Carter admitted that there had been less of a focus on so-called ‘social value’ when the scheme first began – but claimed that had now been corrected.

“People have got to be brave and say that they are about a bit more than just the cheapest cost,” Mr. Carter said.

Members heard that the City Deal now focused on social value measures including local procurement and employment, the provision of apprenticeships and positions for the long-term unemployed.

But board member Mark Rawstron warned that the officers ultimately responsible for making decisions about awarding contracts under the City Deal needed to be in tune with the localism agenda which the politicians were pushing.

“Procurement teams need to understand the difference between cost and value for money. Value for money sometimes costs more, but the economic outputs are much greater.

“If you have a procurement team which is not fully on board, you can miss out,” Mr. Rawstron said.

The meeting was told that social value measures were now being tracked and would be reported to the board at a later date.

Papers presented to the board revealed that the forthcoming Preston Western Distributor scheme - creating a dual carriageway between North West Preston and the M55 - is forecast to source 60 percent of its labour locally, with 40 percent of the total contracts awarded to small and medium-sized enterprises in the county.