Lancashire County Council’s cabinet approved the plans, which will see loans offered to companies “at the forefront addressing social and environmental challenges”.
There will be a particular focus on clean growth industries, as well as the artificial intelligence and data sectors and firms working on issues relating to an ageing society and the future shape of mobility.
Collectively, these areas have been identified by the government as the four “grand challenges” to be tackled in the coming years.
However, a report presented to cabinet members notes that while Lancashire already boasts some success in these key industrial categories, it is not yet “translating into significant jobs growth” by making the county the pre-eminent place for a particular technology or specialism.
The hope is that the new fund will give businesses s the confidence to invest in the county - and new technologies - when they might otherwise not have done.
Michael Green, cabinet member for economic development, environment and planning. said that the cash will be used to create a “revolving fund” which can be continually recycled as money is repaid and new potential investors present themselves.
“This fund demonstrates how proactive public sector support can work to improve our existing business base to find the new partners and new technologies, which can become the industries of the future and help us to drive forward recovery and growth across our county.
“It will...help us to create good quality jobs in new sectors - in particular the clean energy sector - so it would also help with the all-important need to improve our environment in the years to come,” County Cllr Green said.
The operation of the fund and the process for making applications is yet to be decided.
However, its work is likely to be constrained by whatever system replaces the current set of EU rules regarding state aid - a matter which is part of the ongoing negotiations over a Brexit trade deal.
That may mean loans have to be granted on commercial terms or come in below a state aid threshold.
Cabinet members were told that the hit taken by the engineering sector in Lancashire - and its supply chain - as a result of the pandemic was causing high-value, high-skilled jobs to disappear.
The meeting heard that affected industries were likely to remain “scarred for the foreseeable future”.
Loan applications will be judged on key performance indicators including the volume and quality of the jobs created and the extent to which the projects promote diversification from declining employment sectors.
HOW IS LANCASHIRE CURRENTLY PERFORMING IN THE INDUSTRIES OF THE FUTURE?
This is the county council’s assessment:
The economy is broad with a number of projects and businesses helping delivering products and services to reduce carbon emissions from home, businesses and transport.
Whilst the county has emerging products and technologies around the production and use of hydrogen, the established strength of the county is in the production of electricity using nuclear processes.
The government's much anticipated Energy white paper will establish the extent to which nuclear is seen as part of the UK's decarbonised energy mix moving forward.
Artificial Intelligence and Data
Lancashire can boast a broad base of digital businesses with many of the larger employers being agencies which service a client base well beyond the county itself.
Lancaster is notable for a number of established businesses working with data and Artificial Intelligence as well as cyber security.
There are also a number of outstanding firms in sectors such as digital animation or educational software, but, as yet, Lancashire is not seen as a match for the core cities.
The development of solutions which address the UK and worldwide issue of an ageing population are spread across a number of sectors but focussed on health care. Strong medical schools and facilities at both UCLan and Lancaster Universities Health Innovation Campus are now beginning to define their own specialisms around this theme alongside some strong local businesses developing their own health based technologies and manufacturing.
Future of mobility
This plays to some of the existing strengths of the county's automotive and aerospace sector businesses, but they will need to actively embrace the considerable challenges of moving to electrification or other decarbonised fuels. Lancashire is also developing capabilities around the use of autonomous vehicles through facilities like the Engineering Innovation Centre at UCLan and the North West Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NWAMRC) now being built at Samlesbury Enterprise Zone.