Business is bouncing back from the body blows dealt by two of Lancashire’s major employers.
While the county recovers from the loss of more than 900 jobs due to cutbacks at BAE Systems and the closure of Alstom in Preston, corporate leaders are adamant: “It isn’t all doom and gloom.”
Leyland Trucks will go roaring into 2018 with business having hit top gear during the past year.
A support network for private sector companies says more than 300 new jobs have been created by businesses using its services.
Preston Council’s economic model, which has won plaudits nationally, has helped create a further 1,500 jobs in the district by keeping procurement and services within the county.
And county council leader Geoff Driver is talking directly to Prime Minister Theresa May about more ways to drive forward advanced manufacturing in Lancashire.
“The economy in the county is very buoyant - we are doing quite well,” said Coun Michael Green LCC’s cabinet member for economic development.
“We will always get blips. But the business people I talk to are busy, which is a good sign.
“We have always punched above our weight as a county. And I think we are still doing that and driving forward.”
Andrew Leeming, the Boost Business Lancashire programme manager at County Hall, insisted it is not all doom and gloom by any means. He said: “Lancashire is one of the best places to do business. All the businesses we speak to say it as well.
“There’s always going to be negative news. But one of the things we all need to do is speak optimistically about what the future may hold.”Leyland Trucks is one of the companies leading
the revival. It has added 74 new jobs - a third of them apprentices - to its 1,000-strong workforce this year and production in 2017 looks on course to outstrip last year.
The UK’s biggest truck builder says production has been steadily increasing through 2017 - in stark contrast to BAE and Alstom.Plane builder BAE is to shed 750 staff at Warton and
Samlesbury due to a slowdown in orders of both the Typhoon and Hawk aircraft.
And train manufacturer Alstom will be closing down its plant on Strand Road, Preston and moving production to Widnes in Cheshire with the loss of 180 jobs.
At Leyland, improving market demand has meant the company expects truck production this year to exceed last year’s total. And, with new models released during 2017, the picture looks far healthier than it has for some time.
That said, the firm is reluctant to count its artics before they are built, saying it cannot predict if even more jobs will be created in early 2018.
“We do not currently have plans to increase our headcount in the new year,” said a Leyland spokesman. “But we are driven by the market. Our increased headcount (in 2017) is largely as a result of increased production, which is in turn as a result of the stable market.
“We did recruit some positions to cover retirements etc, but that number was relatively small and is normal to the business. Further, Leyland Trucks has taken on 24 apprentices in 2017.
“Production build rates have increased steadily in 2017 to match market demand and it is estimated that production for 2017 total year will be higher than in 2016.”
Leyland celebrated 120 years of vehicle manufacturing last year, having been a key employer in the town since 1896.
The company, part of the US owned PACCAR group, currently employs more than 1,000 staff and the average number of years service on-site being 17, with some having been part of the company more than 40.
Managing director Bryan Sitko said: “The stability of our workforce is demonstrated by the multi-generational mix we have - we often have multiple generations of the same family working on site. We have developed a real community of expertise, drawing on different experiences and investing in our team to make sure we have the necessary skills to continue our work.”
Leyland independent councillor Claire Hamilton said: “It is always much welcomed news when a local employer is performing well.”
“It goes without saying that jobs and investment are essential to our local economy and keeps the future bright for Leyland residents.”
300 private sector posts
A support network for Lancashire businesses says around 300 private sector jobs have been created by companies utilising their services since 2016.
And the bosses behind the Boost Business Lancashire hub will continue to promote grass-roots firms into the foreseeable future after it secured £7.8m of funding to run a further three years. The first phase of Boost - launched in conjunction with the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership - between 2013 and 2015 - provided support to over 2,800 businesses across Lancashire creating more than 1,200 jobs.
Andrew Leeming, Boost programme manager at Lancashire County Council, said there is plenty to be positive about in terms of business in Lancashire.
He said: “One of the things we say at Boost is that it’s not our role to make your business work, what we can do is be a cheer-leader for businesses to make them understand how improvement can be made from within.”
Cavity wall company’s double figures target
Preston based cavity wall firm Cavity Extraction Ltd started in 2015 as a one-man band but its boss is hopeful 2018 will see the firm reach double figures.Boost linked Damian up with
mentor John Townsend and since then the city company has grown sales by 150 per cent in the past year and is starting to land major contracts.
Damian added: “John gave me an impartial view on what I was doing. He gave me a better insight into the business and without that I think I still would have been navigating my way through.
“That has given me the confidence to go for what I wanted to achieve.
“I was a one-man band, we have six employees and hoping that will rise next year.”
Preston Model praised
Preston Council’s economic model of keeping procurement and services within the county has received plaudits across the country in recent months.
The so-called Preston Model includes six anchor institutions - the town hall, county hall, UCLan, Community Gateway and colleges - who endeavour to keep spending within the local economy. Independent analysis recently revealed it had created 1,500 jobs. In the last four years alone almost £200m has been spent with Lancashire based organisations.
This equates to 79 per cent of the total spend of the institutions, compared with 39 per cent in 2012/13.
‘Bold’ autumn budget to ‘boost productivity’
Business leaders in Lancashire have welcomed the positive news from Leyland Trucks, saying it demonstrates how local companies are finding ways to succeed in challenging times.
But Chancellor Philip Hammond has been urged not to torpedo the recovery by allowing an expected 3.9 per cent rise in business rate valuations next year.
The North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce has called on Mr Hammond to take immediate action to halt the increase by delivering a “bold” autumn budget on November 22 designed to boost the UK’s productivity.
“Seventy-plus new jobs at Leyland Trucks is certainly fantastic news and will give a real boost to the local economy,” said chamber chief executive Babs Murphy.
“It’s also an illustration that even though businesses are facing challenging times, business continues to invest for the future. Businesses have been finding ways to adapt to the climate and, in some cases, even use it to their advantage. Many have streamlined their operations over the past year, leaving them well placed to capitalise.
“Ahead of the Chancellor’s autumn budget on November 22, the NWLCC is urging the Government to take immediate action to halt the expected 3.9 per cent increase in business rates valuations next year, as part of a bold budget that seeks to boost the UK’s productivity.
“Our budget submission calls on the Chancellor to take action now to get the UK economy ready for when the country leaves the European Union.
“The Chamber proposes pausing the Corporation Tax roadmap, with the tax remaining at 19 per cent until after Brexit - with revenue ring-fenced to help ease the burden of up-front taxes and costs.”
30 new employees in the past year
Preston legal firm Harrison Drury called in Boost when it needed its website updating to reflect its widening service offer.
Operations director Laura Dover said the organisation provided support through the tendering process with digital marketing firms.
And the business growth hub was able to help out with funding.
She said: “We found it very useful to have that help through the process.
“They bring a level of expertise, people who have experienced those growing pains before and help us through as we’re experiencing them.”
In the past year, the company has taken on around 30 new employees.