Leaders across all of Lancashire have come together to drive an ambitious plan for accelerating economic growth, making the County a major contributor to the national economy. If output per head matched the English average, Lancashire would contribute almost £10bn more in economic output to the national economy – but to get there requires a focus on tackling health inequality and providing the infrastructure Lancashire needs.
The early findings of a major investigation into Lancashire’s economy have begun to shine a light on the issues underlying the county’s strengths and weaknesses, and chart the pathway for Lancashire to realise its full potential for growth as the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic gets underway.
The Independent Economic Review has been commissioned by Lancashire’s leaders to provide a robust analysis of the county’s economy, and guide decisions to help people and businesses shape their future following the economic shock of the last year. It will also provide the evidence needed to achieve the best outcome from ongoing work to reshape public services, and ensure Lancashire is well placed to take advantage of future investment opportunities.
The review is being overseen by a panel of national experts from a breadth of backgrounds, including academia, local government, and think tanks, to provide a truly independent view of the Lancashire economy. It is being funded and commissioned by Lancashire County Council, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Blackpool Council and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
“Taking stock: an audit of Lancashire’s economy” sets out the panel’s initial findings, outlining the county’s main strengths and weaknesses, and charting the evolution of the economy since the 2008 financial crisis through to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The panel is now appealing to people and businesses to consider the report, and offer their input to help build as accurate and detailed picture of the local economy as possible as work begins on a number of further detailed pieces of research.
The report consists of three ‘audits’ – of Lancashire’s people, place, and productivity, outlining where things currently stand.
In terms of people, key findings include a summary of the challenges around poverty, education, skills, deprivation, and health and wellbeing affecting Lancashire’s population. The report also describes opportunities for growth such as the power of the the high performing education sector in the region. The county has been more affected by Covid-19 than most of the UK, in terms of both health and economic impacts.
The report outlines that Lancashire’s ‘place’ – or economic geography – is constrained due to transport links within the county being focused on travel along a north to south axis, while centres of population are aligned from east to west. Poor east to west transport connections beyond Lancashire also mean that links with nearby economic centres in Yorkshire are weak. Further research will be carried out to produce a more up-to-date picture of travel patterns, and understand the possible longer-term impact of Covid on people’s travel to work due to the growth in home working, and how town centres have been affected by the rise in online shopping.
In terms of productivity, the report finds that Lancashire’s recovery from the 2008 financial crisis was relatively slow, but in recent years has been picking up pace, closing the productivity gap with the UK average. Output and jobs in manufacturing have been growing steadily since 2009. In order for manufacturing to continue to grow, investment is needed to enhance productivity and employment in the sector, while transforming it to spearhead efforts to achieve net zero carbon emissions.
Rowena Burns, chair of the independent panel, said: “Lancashire has a long and proud history as a county where world class manufacturing sits alongside pride in place and a reputation for endeavour and innovation. The aim of the independent review is to produce a full picture of the Lancashire economy today, and a launchpad for recovery and growth which will be based on a firm foundation of well-researched evidence.
“With this initial study, we have outlined Lancashire’s main economic strengths and weaknesses, and identified where further research is needed to underpin a compelling Industrial Strategy and the evidence which will support investment decisions and future bids to government.
“Ultimately, the Strategy will depend for success on the support of Lancashire’s people, so the next step is to work with partners, businesses and local people over the coming months to develop the detailed understanding we need.
“Our call for evidence is currently open, and I would ask people to help the panel deepen their understanding of the Lancashire economy by answering a number of key questions which are available on our website.”
The report sets out next steps identifying the need for further detailed research into health, wealth and wellbeing; infrastructure; economic geography; manufacturing, advanced manufacturing and engineering, and internationalisation.