Cuts could lead to new reality

The Chamber recently hosted a Manufacturing meeting and the challenges and opportunities for the sector were starkly clear.

Firstly, on the public-sector or publicly-funded supply side, the message was of funding reductions and uncertainty of their position, if any after the comprehensive spending review in the autumn. This was equally the case whether a university, sector-organisation, business support or regional agency.

Whatever one’s views of these various bodies, there is little doubt that some form of public intervention will be necessary going forward if the UK is to maximise a manufacturing and export led recovery.

Secondly, the businesses represented described an equally uncertain world, albeit with more of a combination of optimism as well as caution. Defence and aerospace, on which a large part of the local economy depends, awaits with trepidation the outcome of the spending review.

The nuclear industry sees massive growth potential but tempered by the realities of international competition and the need for clear direction from government. As if these major policy calls weren’t confusing enough, there’s little detail like the huge paradox of it being more lucrative to burn some of industry’s organic raw materials, due to the incentives for ‘bio-fuel’, causing shortages and inflation.

We have held very positive meetings with our MPs on these issues and believe that they are committed to championing the cause.

There is also a review of business support underway nationally and we will be campaigning with vigour. Please tell us if there are issues you wish to raise.

Almost unnoticed, among the mass of current initiatives and statements are some potentially hugely profound developments for industry in the field of further education and skills.

There are two immediate consultations by BIS: ‘A simplified further education and skills funding system and methodology’ and ‘skills for sustainable growth’. While they are complex, our summary would be that in future education may only be paid if it prepares its students for the world of work and jobs.

Some of the ‘soft courses’ are already being ditched. Industry has been calling for this for a long, long time. This also means that the educational and skills institutions will have to make more determined efforts to understand the needs of employers.

The Chamber chairs the Pennine Lancashire Skills Board which finds much to like in the documents. Again please let us know if you have comments and we will feed them directly in to our response.

This leads on to another current initiative, Local Enterprise Partnerships, which are causing some comment. These are to be the local strategic mechanism, responding to the notion of small government and, after a swathe of regional and local intermediaries are swept away, to be based on ‘natural economies’ and public:private partnerships led by business.

The Chamber has been providing evidence of the interventions that would enhance the Pennine Lancashire economy – whether infrastructure, transport, skills, housing and enterprise, based on information, experience and partnership working over a long period.

We await the sponsoring departments, both BIS (Vince Cable) and CLG (Eric Pickles), who have so far only called for broad expressions of interest, defining the working meanings of ‘local’ and ‘enterprise’. We can then build on the preliminary dialogues and consultations that we have had with members and the wider private sector, and only take up any more of their precious time once we have tangible issues to consider and know what authority LEPs may have.

Finally, Pennine Lancashire’s Food Festival was kicked off in style by Northcote Manor’s Nigel Haworth at Ewood Park with 5,000 people turning up and the exhibitors generally sold out. This greatly encourages us in our efforts to promote the Pennine Lancashire visitor economy.

Michael Damms
Chamber of Commerce East Lancashire