This Thursday a meeting has been called by Ministers and Civil Servants from CLG and BIS for all the Lancashire MP’s regarding the Local Enterprise Partnership issues in Lancashire.
Several discussions with Senior Civil Servants and Pennine Lancashire representatives over the last few weeks and they have indicated that their advice to ministers is that a two LEP solution for Lancashire is the only realistic way forward, that is - one for Pennine Lancashire and one for the West/Central Lancashire and I understand that this is now the view of the two ministers leading on LEPs.
There have been issues over the past few months regarding the difference of opinion between the majority of Pennine Lancashire authorities and Lancashire County Council.
The position of the Pennine Lancashire councils remains unchanged with the exception of Ribble Valley Council who has stated that their preference is now for a single Lancashire LEP, however, this was based on their understanding that there was no possibility of CLG and BIS approving two LEPs in Lancashire.
The East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce and the Pennine Lancashire Business Leaders Forum remain in strong support of the Pennine Lancs proposal and have written to government in December confirming this.
The Government did not give any prescription on the size of LEPs but did say that they should reflect functional economic areas and shouldn’t just be based on traditional county boundaries. There have already been 27 LEPs approved of varying sizes, some of which are similar in size to Pennine Lancashire eg Cumbria’s is 490k population and Worcestershire is less than 560k population. The Pennine Lancashire LEP covers a population of 525k residents.
Pennine Lancashire is a functioning economic area:
• Economy characterised by strong manufacturing base – 21% compared with 10% nationally.
• More than 700 businesses involved in significant export activity this year.
• There is a high degree of connectivity and interdependence between the Pennine towns, with thousands of residents accessing jobs in neighbouring districts every day.
• 84% of resident employees work in the area
• Of those people who do access employment outside Pennine Lancs, almost three times as many commute to Manchester as do to Preston.
• Independent analysis shows that more than 200 high-growth businesses have achieved at least three years continuous growth
• The area has a self contained housing market, 73% of migration occurs from within, and over 70% of the population expect to be living here in five years time
• Travel to learn catchments map closely on to the economic footprint with local colleges and university campus serving, almost exclusively, the areas residents.
In addition, the local authorities and business leaders have built a strong history of partnership working to benefit the area rather than working in silos and already have in place a private sector chaired Employment and Skills Board and an Economic Development Company (Regenerate PL).
Pennine Lancashire has made significant progress with prioritising regeneration schemes which will benefit Pennine Lancashire as a whole, working together to accelerate key strategic transport schemes, benefiting from joint funding schemes eg LEGI, HMR and have robust governance arrangements to build on. We believe that we are in a strong position to move quickly to form a LEP board and be operational within months. This will strengthen any Pennine Lancashire bid to RGF in round two and future bidding rounds. As a collective of authorities and business leaders we have already endorsed four projects for RGF round one funding regardless of having a LEP.
The proposal from Lancashire County Council focuses on growth in Preston and Central Lancashire and in line with their previous and existing economic strategies barely touches on support for schemes in Hyndburn and the wider Pennine Lancashire area regardless of the difficult economic conditions the areas face as the public sector reduces.
The underlying problems with the Lancashire County Council bid
The raging debate over future economic structures for Lancashire following the Governments abolition of the North West Development Agency has been a controversial.
Controversial in that Lancashire County Council which represents only 12 of the 14 Councils, Blackburn and Blackpool being stand alone Unitary Authorities has been using it's resources in an aggressive and unco-operative manner to force through a single economic body which the County Council and it’s leadership will have control over.
The whole process of finding an acceptable economic Local Enterprise Partnership for Lancashire has been conducted in a underhand way with secret political meetings, threatening language at meetings, press releases and statements with misleading and false information, personal insults.
An act of spite or revenge?
Lancashire County Council’s released a press statement that it would support only one LEP leaving Pennine Lancashire without Lancashire County Council support. This will make the job of promoting Lancashire harder and be to the detriment of residents.
County Coun Driver, the leader of the Conservative-led county council, said: “I have said from day one that the county council will only be part of one LEP for Lancashire and I do not think any other alternative is viable without us.
“If the leaders of (Pennine) district councils want to go down a (separate) path that is entirely their decision, we will continue with the rest of the county.
“But, if Pennine Lancashire thinks it can go ahead without us, I think they are dreaming.”
It has become clear that Geoff Driver will be using County Council resources to support a West Lancashire LEP but will not support a Pennine Lancashire LEP.
His position as Leader is in my view untenable. He has behaved like a small, spoilt child and any decision to favour one area over another without good reason is wholly unacceptable. It is also my view that he must go so that faith, leadership and moral authority can be returned to the high office of County Council Leader.