The last month has been a bleak one for Lancashire’s economy, with two companies announcing major job losses.
BAE Systems is shedding 750 roles at its Samlesbury and Warton sites, and engineering firm Alstom is to lose a further 180 roles.
Both these redundancy programmes represent highly-skilled jobs, which are already in short supply in Lancashire.
For those directly affected by the job losses, some solutions are already in place - redundancy packages, re-training opportunities, support to change careers.
But these announcements will undoubtedly have knock-on effects, both to the various local subsiduary companies that deal directly with BAE and Alstom, and to the wider economy of the county as a whole.
But while all the county’s major players agree that action needs to be taken, opinion varies widely on the best course of action.
Fylde MP Mark Menzies, whose constituency includes the Warton site, is hanging all of his hopes on securing a deal with Saudi Arabia to buy some more planes.
Preston MP Mark Hendrick thinks better rail links are the answer, while Preston Council leader Peter Rankin believes that a Lancashire-wide mayor would be better able to push the case for Lancashire.
Preston MP Mark Hendrick said BAE requires support from ministers to secure new business through a joined up “political and marketing effort”, perhaps even widening the current catchment area for defence contracts.
However, the Labour MP said the double “hammer-blow” at BAE and Alstom showed up the “hype” surrounding the Northern Powerhouse.
“I have always thought that this idea for the Northern Powerhouse was an idea from George Osborne to appeal to northern voters who saw the south as a predominantly Tory area and the north Labour,” he said.
“It was an election message to make people think this wasn’t the case. There was a great deal of hype about it but if they were serious about it what we would see is big projects like we’ve seen the government commit to in the south and around London, like Crossrail. If the government was serious about the north we would have had HS3, Liverpool to Hull, that would show serious commitment. “
I fear it will stop at Manchester at Leeds and it will not reach places in the North and that gives the impression that it was all hype and talk.
“There are sections of lines across the North West yet to be electrified and that in the 21st century is not acceptable.”
He said calls from colleagues for the Government to deliver on the Northern Powerhouse would be futile, he added.
Fylde MP Mark Menzies, whose constituency includes the Warton BAE site, told the Lancashire Post efforts to push through a deal with Saudi Arabia should be priority for the Government. He visits the Gulf State next week.
“As far as BAE is concerned, we need to see the deal to supply Qatar with 24 planes given the final sign off in the first instance to keep the production line going,” the Conservative MP said. “And we need to push on with the next Saudi deal. Progress on that deal for an order of a further 48 Typhoons slowed during the election given Labour’s stance of no sales to the kingdom.
“However, I visited Saudi Arabia three weeks ago and they are very much of the view they will be buying these aircraft. I will meet the Crown Prince again next week and will further press for the deal.
“In the longer term, we also need to see a commitment from the Government on a sixth generation fighter plane for Warton and Samlesbury.
“Winning that Saudi order, and a pledge for a new fighter, would help keep the current Eurofighter Typhoon production line open, and give the firm a commitment about an entirely new product.”
This week the first meeting of the several metro mayors to have accepted the Government’s terms took place. Lancashire is still awaiting feedback from their bid.
Preston City Council leader Peter Rankin recently warned Brexit could scupper any hopes of a devolution deal being pushed through.
He said: “We need to be working together to look at services to share.
“I’m batting for Preston but it is crucial and important that we work together.”
He added that faith should be placed in the county’s City Deal and Preston Model initiatives in creating new opportunities for those affected.
Coun Rankin said: “It’s always disappointing when this kind of news is announced, especially for the families affected.
“Job losses and relocation of businesses outside the area are unfortunate. However, with the growth and commitment of the City Deal and the community wealth-building projects, the impetus is also on new businesses growing and moving into Preston. Jobs and new opportunities are on the horizon and we are doing everything we can to cultivate investment relationships.”
Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans, whose constituency includes BAE’s Samlesbury site, refused to comment on the issue of bringing more jobs to Lancashire.
Last month, reacting to the BAE Systems announcement, Mr Evans said he would press the government to redouble its efforts to encourage increased sales exports of UK defence technology and ensure the Ministry of Defence procures its equipment in the UK.
He said: “The presence of BAE in the North West is sizable, providing literally thousands of skilled jobs to the region, I want to ensure that BAE has a strong presence in Lancashire for years to come. Not only is the company vital for the livelihoods of a small army of workers, it is crucial for a significant number of small-to-medium sized business that rely on BAE across the country.”
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said she was confident that central Lancashire would bounce back from the blow of BAE and Alstom jobs losses.
She said: “Employers are under enormous globalisation pressures which often means centralisation and consolidation is required to move the business forward. Alstom has been a real asset to the local economy for a number of years. It has always been a particularly effective manufacturer with a strong workforce and it is obviously disappointing news but on a positive note the firm is retaining its operation in the North West. As with other recent job loss announcements we are confident that the local economy will be able to present new opportunities for those workers who may lose their jobs.”
New investment plans for the county
Lancashire is soon set to benefit from more than £13m of new skills investment which will create over 4,000 new training places across the county in range of different sectors.
Over the next two months four brand new education facilities will open as part of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) wider £27m technical and vocational skills Growth Deal funding programme.
The new facilities include the Lancashire Energy HQ in Blackpool, the first of its kind in the UK, which is set be the country’s leading training centre for the renewable, oil and gas energy sectors; the Food and Farming Innovation and Technology (FFIT) Centre at Myerscough College in Preston, which will be the most advanced agricultural training centre in the UK; and the Sentamu Teaching Block at the University of Cumbria’s Lancaster campus, which will specialise in training health and social care students.
In addition, Lancashire Adult Learning (LAL), the county’s adult learning service is due to relocate from Chorley to the newly refurbished premises at Brierfield Mill in Pendle as part of the £32m Northlight regeneration scheme. The new LAL centre will support 22,000 adult learners in Lancashire across 120 community venues.
The role of devolution
Seven regions of Britain already have elected mayors focused on bringing more economic investments into their local areas.
This week they met for the first time and issued a call for the Government to increase the pace and scale of devolution to boost economic growth.
The summit at City Hall in London on Wednesday saw Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester) alongside Steve Rotheram (Liverpool City Region), Sadiq Khan (London), Tim Bowles (West of England), Ben Houchen (Tees Valley), James Palmer (Cambridgeshire and Peterborough) and Andy Street (West Midlands).
After the meeting, a joint statement said: “Rather than individual grants or handouts we should be given greater control over existing taxes and revenues. We represent people from every corner of England and come from different political parties, but we are united in our shared belief that the key to Britain’s future success is giving our cities and metropolitan areas more control. “
Lancashire is putting together a bid for devolved powers, but internal wrangling means the county is lagging significantly behind neighbouring areas.
like Greater Manchester and Liverpool.
The shadow combined authority is currently waiting on feedback on its devolution proposal, although doubt remains on whether they can accept a directly elected mayor.