Pennine Lancashire: A green light for diversification

East Lancashire has massive opportunities to become a national and global leader in low carbon and green technologies.

And it is an opportunity it must seize as part of a drive to diversification that will strengthen the local economy, says Miranda Barker, chief executive of East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce.

In the first of a new series, Lancashire Business View is examining the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing specific parts of the county. To compile our SWOT analysis of the ‘Pennine’ east, we’ve talked to a range of business and political leaders.

When it comes to opportunity, Miranda is clear. She says: “Huge demand is about to created for low carbon technology. It is a key sector for the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership. It represents a real opportunity.”

The need for advanced manufacturing to look at diversification is also clear as Covid-19 continues to massively impact on sectors such as aerospace and automotive, two of East Lancashire’s traditional strengths.

Those strengths that have served Pennine Lancashire communities so well have also been exposed as potential weaknesses by the pandemic. The massive downturn in civil aviation has hit the supply chain hard.

Miranda explains that advanced manufacturing and the expertise and innovation that exists in the east of the county act as magnets for inward investment. That is what makes them so vital.

However, the pandemic has been punching holes in that supply chain, which is a threat to the local economy. Miranda warns: “There is a real threat we will lose that cluster, which is so important to us, if we get too many holes.”

There are positives, a county recovery plan is being developed for civil aerospace. And the defence side of the sector remains strong, with the Tempest project to develop the next generation fighter jet programme set to deliver large-scale benefits for East Lancashire.

In another sign of strength BAE Systems announced in December plans to recruit a record number of apprentices and graduates, including more than 320 in its air division, which includes its plant at Samlesbury.

Miranda says that there are also innovative projects in the pipeline that will push forward the green economy locally. They included RedCAT, the new Lancashire Centre for Alternative Technologies based in Hyndburn.

It links in with the low carbon demonstrator which is part of the AMRC North West development on the emerging enterprise zone in Samlesbury.

Aside from manufacturing, Miranda sees the UCLan campus at Burnley as another great opportunity to drive economic growth and deliver vital skills.

She also talks of the strength of East Lancashire’s town centres in terms of their links with the communities they serve, adding: “They are really loved by people, you only had to see how Blackburn and Burnley town centres were among the first to recover after the initial lockdown.”

Darwen is one of those well-loved East Lancashire town centres. The government’s Town Fund presents a massive opportunity for improvement and regeneration work.

A Town Deal board has been created – bringing together experts who all have close links to Darwen – to put together its bid for up to £25m of government cash.

A vision is emerging as the bid comes together which includes major town centre regeneration projects, including a sports village complex. Local businessman Wayne Wild, chairman of the deal board, says: “Some of the projects are going to be really exciting.”

He says that with match-funding from local government, plus private investment, the total sum available for those projects could be more than £200m. And he adds: “For a town the size of Darwen that is hugely significant.”

STRENGTHS

The strength of community in East Lancashire and the attitude of people to get on and get things done. We’ve certainly seen that in response to Covid-19. It is a warm place to do business and that shines through. People are willing to give you a chance and opportunities.

Richard Few, founder Sales Geek

This is a great place to set up and run a business. Its legendary workforce is unequalled in terms of adaptability, expertise and work ethic. With the quality of the people and talent we’ve got right here, I’m confident we can get through any crisis, learn from it, and move onwards and upwards. Another great thing we’ve got going for us is our manufacturing expertise.

Tony Grimshaw, director of What More UK

Being in East Lancashire is a huge benefit for our company, as it is where our industry started, we are the home of wallpaper printing. In the past there were 20-30 companies like ours around the Darwen area. This means we have wallpaper-skilled people to employ, and we currently employ 50. Good people are available due to the current circumstances, and it’s given us a business opportunity to take on.

James Watson, managing director, Surface Print (1838 Wallcoverings)

WEAKNESSES

We have a perception problem in East Lancashire. Those who live here know what a lovely place it is to live. We’re surrounded by amazing countryside you can get out to for a walk and fresh air, and the coast is only down the road. People think though that we’re all flat caps and cobbled streets, and although we’re proud of our heritage it’s a great place to live now, with a lot to offer. It’s an image problem, and we end up saying to people we’re based near Manchester.

Andrew Turner, managing director, Langtec

The pandemic has exposed vulnerability in supply chains and also the reliance of the area on its aerospace and advanced manufacturing. Government support for businesses, such as the jobs furlough scheme, will also stop at some point.

Jimmy King, managing director Pierce

OPPORTUNITIES

We have the opportunity to change our purchasing strategy to support each other and rebuild our economy. The pandemic has made many companies question the effectiveness of global supply chains and their relationship with, for instance, China. A new focus on resilience: from 'just in time' to 'just in case' has prompted many to look closer to home.

If an item is vital, is it really wise to source it from the far east when a local manufacturer can provide the same item? If you can buy it in Lancashire, buy it in Lancashire. Let’s keep as much money in our local economy first and foremost so that we can afford to be innovative and train local people in new careers and opportunities.  

David Lenehan, managing director Northern Industrial

Attracting the younger generation into traditional industries, which includes investing in apprenticeships. Digital skills will always be a requirement too, as traditional businesses need to change with the times and invest in automated processes and Internet of Things to stay competitive.

Murray Dawson, chairman of Amazing Accrington

Although the Covid pandemic has had a significant negative impact on local businesses it has also created opportunities. Rossendale is keen to embrace the growing ‘green sector’ of the economy and supporting businesses focused on renewable energy and carbon reduction is a major opportunity.

Neil Shaw, chief executive Rossendale Borough Council

It’s exciting that there are plans for 4,000 university students in Burnley by 2025. At VEKA, we have technical engineering capabilities, so it’s reassuring that we will have a graduate talent pool we can draw upon.

Neil Evans, managing director VEKA UK

THREATS

Manufacturing is the heart of East Lancashire and I’m concerned how the future will unfold. There are big implications for the aerospace industry as we learn what the general reaction to taking flights, even for business purposes, will be. Will video calling be the nail in the coffin for business travel?

Ken Shackleton, managing director, Cardboard Box Company

The key threats relate to the fragility of local small businesses. Although our recent business survey indicated that nearly two thirds of businesses had confidence in the business environment the economic recovery is likely to stretch well into 2021 and possibly beyond.

The uncertainty of the duration of the Covid restrictions is a major short-term inhibitor to businesses planning their survival or recovery. Its important that councils listen to these businesses and work with them where we can to help facilitate the recovery.

Neil Shaw, chief executive Rossendale Borough Council

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