Businesses urged to push for devolution

Lancashire’s business community has been challenged to step up to the plate and play a more vocal role in pushing for devolution for the county.

The call came from Shirah Bamber, head of policy and external relations at Preston City Council, who says businesses “need to be banging on the door” and calling for it to happen.

She was speaking at the launch event of the latest edition of Lancashire Business View, which was held at the Porsche Centre in Preston.

Shirah said: “At the moment, predominantly the business community is very quiet on this but we need that push for the government to pay attention.”

She also said it was time for the area to “stop talking itself down” and to work together to talk about what it does well.

Shirah was part of an expert panel that also discussed the City Deal and its impact on the local economy.

She described the deal, which has already seen £130m invested in highway and transport infrastructure, improving connectivity and housing, as a “game-changer”.

Ian Gaskell of IT business Infinium told the audience his company had moved into the Preston area because of its strong motorway links.

However, he warned that road congestion in the city was a big problem and said: “I am concerned how much that problem is putting businesses off Preston.”

Stephen Robinson, of Champion Accountants, said he felt the benefits of the City Deal were coming through, however he added: “The road systems are still a long way from being ideal.”

Work on the Preston Western Distributor road, with its new junction on the M55 is set to begin this autumn and will have a positive impact on the traffic problem, the audience was told.

And Paul Walton of Preston-based PWA Planning said there was also a need to look at other solutions to the transport challenges – such as a light railway or tram system serving the city’s suburbs.

He said: “One of the criticisms of the City Deal is that there is a focus on road infrastructure with probably a lack of thought on how we might invest in other forms of public transport that are not car related.”

Rizwan Seth, managing director of office property business W_rkspace, said a lack of good office space in the city was also a problem, with companies eager to move back into Preston but unable to find the premises they required.

He said that his company, which has refurbished Preston’s Old Docks House, was looking for other premises in the city to increase its portfolio of flexible workspaces.

View the full gallery for this event here