Lancashire told to straighten out its growth strategy

Lancashire businesses are "confused" about the different strategies which have been developed by the body charged with delivering economic growth in the county, a meeting has heard.

Tuesday, 7th May 2019, 1:26 pm
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Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) board member Mike Blackburn made the comments as the organisation discussed a government assessment which concluded that its strategic work "requires improvement".

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"We need clarity and to show there is a common purpose," said Mr. Blackburn, a regional director for BT.

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The LEP has devised a series of separate strategies in recent years, covering topics including digital skills and the wider economy.

But in its annual review of the LEP's performance, the government's cities and local growth unit recommended that the strands should now "coalesce" around a single local industrial strategy, which all enterprise partnerships are required to produce by next spring.

Board member Mick Gornall, managing director of nuclear energy company Westinghouse, said the LEP needed to learn lessons from how strategies work in the world of industry.

"I'm not clear how [the LEP's strategies] fit together or what we are trying to achieve with all these different pieces of work.

"It would be useful to map out the interaction between them and then it would be so much easier to track progress and check that we are on track."

However, the 'requires improvement' rating has itself necessitated the creation of a strategic improvement plan, which includes a commitment to review the "form and function" of the LEP.

But interim LEP chair, David Taylor, said the organisation was being "reviewed to hell".

"What people forget is that these reviews are very labour intensive. We've got a very small team of people and when they're [conducting reviews] they're not doing other things.

The improvement pledges also included a promised effort to engage MPs with the purpose of the LEP and to work with a sponsor to "improve perception" of the organisation within government departments.

However, the document drew criticism from several board members for being, variously, too "anodyne" and "wishy-washy" in its wording.

Tony Attard, chair of Marketing Lancashire, also expressed concern at the absence of any reference to inward investment and export markets - while Blackburn with Darwen Council's cabinet member for growth, Phil Riley, requested "a nod" in the direction of environmental sustainability.

LEP lead officer, Andy Walker, told the meeting: "We think we have got the right ingredients for a plan which will put us in a place to be exemplary."

Meanwhile, the government assessment rated as "good" the two other areas on which LEPs were judged this year - governance and delivery. Lancashire was praised for its handling of the biggest growth deal budget for a comparable area of the country and for achieving 25 percent female representation on the LEP board, ahead of a nationwide target to reach 50 percent by March 2023.