Health check highlights causes for concern

An audit of Lancashire’s economy highlights in stark terms the challenges the county faces as it looks to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, with health issues of major concern.

The report warns that poor health outcomes are “weighing on” both its economic output and local government services.

And it also highlights how Lancashire has been more affected by Covid-19 than most of the UK, in terms of health and economic impacts.

While the pandemic has impacted all parts of the UK, it has not done so equally. At the end of June 2020, almost 200,000 jobs in Lancashire were furloughed, with some districts ranking among the highest in take up of the scheme

Ranking all of England’s local authorities by death rate, four of the county’s districts, Fylde, Wyre, Burnley and Blackpool, are in the top five per cent with only South Ribble below the national average.

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.

‘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.

The levelling up challenge will not be met until many of these outcomes are improved

It reports that health, education and skills, poverty and deprivation are all major issues and it warns: “The ‘levelling up’ challenge in Lancashire will not be met until many of these outcomes are improved.”

It adds that innovation is needed in the health and care sector and new models of co-working and commissioning between authorities may be needed.

When it comes to productivity, the report finds that Lancashire’s recovery from the 2008 financial crisis was relatively slow, but in recent years it has been picking up pace, closing the productivity gap with the UK average.

Output and jobs in manufacturing have been growing steadily since 2009. The report says that 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.

More challenges lie ahead. Economic forecasting work commissioned by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) warns the county’s productivity gap with the rest of the nation may be set to widen again.

It adds: “This suggests the progress of the last few years in drastically reducing the productivity gap might be undone, with Lancashire falling behind over the coming decades. This will have correspondingly negative impacts on people’s wages and life chances.”

The report also considers other challenges. Lancashire’s economic geography is “constrained” because transport links within the county are 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.

Amid these challenges, the report also describes opportunities for growth, such as the power of the high performing education sector.

The report’s authors say that even among the challenges they sense “a mood of optimism”.

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 the county council, Blackburn with Darwen Council, Blackpool Council and the LEP.

The findings will help to inform a long-term industrial strategy for Lancashire, a key piece of work being led by the LEP. It will also provide evidence to assess Lancashire’s current carbon footprint and aid the development of a “robust and realistic plan” to achieve net zero carbon.

The panel is now appealing to businesses to offer their input to help build as accurate and detailed picture of the local economy as possible as work begins on several further detailed pieces of research.

Rowena Burns, who chairs 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.”

Rowena adds: “With this initial study, we have outlined Lancashire’s main economic strengths and weaknesses, and identified where further, more detailed, 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.”

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