Putting the business case for devolution
Lancashire must put politics and the details of local government re-organisation to one side and concentrate on the business case for devolution if it is to get its voice heard in the corridors of power.
That was the clear message from business leaders, as the county struggles to find a solution to remove barriers preventing it moving forward towards an elected mayor and a combined authority.
A roundtable discussion hosted by Lancashire Business View and supported by ICAEW Lancashire and South Lakeland focused on how a way forward could be found to get a devo-deal done.
Steve Fogg, who chairs the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said: “I’ve never seen for Lancashire somebody being able to stand up and articulate the real vision, the real prize.
“Until we have that it is very difficult, all we are doing is looking at our neighbours and saying ‘we need one of them’ because they have got one.”
He added: “It is how we create that vision of what we need for Lancashire and then how we go off and achieve it.
“It is the ‘what’ for me, what is the prize and the ambition, what do we need? Get that framed very clearly so we all agree it and then let’s try and move on.”
If Lancashire doesn’t come up with its own solution, we’ll have something imposed on us
Frank McKenna of Downtown in Business told the discussion: “The business case for Lancashire is its importance to UK PLC, that’s the case we need to make.”
He said the county’s politicians and Westminster needed to come together to find a collaborative voice in the way that had happened in Greater Manchester and Liverpool, which both had sealed devolution deals that were working for them.
Frank added that the direction of travel in the country was towards more devolution and he stressed Lancashire needed a figurehead with a democratic mandate to speak for the county.
He warned: “If Lancashire doesn’t come up with its own solution, we’ll have something imposed on us and don’t want us to be there.”
Miranda Barker, chief executive of East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, agreed it was a danger and added there was “a huge ministerial focus on the future of Lancashire.”
Miranda said business in the county could line up behind a message if it knew what it was. She said: “We have to know what the message is, then we can get businesses talking to local and national politicians.”
She said the message needed to address a range of issues, including inward and social investment, and keeping young people in the county.
Hamish Hamilton, past president of the ICAEW in Lancashire and South Lakeland and chairman of Vistage International, said it was important to “concentrate and focus on the “why” and to create a vision that the business community could get behind.
He added: “If we just concentrate on what it will deliver for Lancashire, then hit that message hard and not get dragged down into how we do it. Let’s focus on ‘why’ and we’ll find a way, if that ‘why’ is strong enough.”
Neil McMillan of Chorley-based accountancy practice McMillan and Co and acting president of the ICAEW in Lancashire and South Lakeland took that argument on.
He said: “If we are able to bring the business community together with a clear voice, maybe that is the way to drag the politicians with us.”
Looking at ‘the prize’, he said a joined-up approach from the county was vital if Lancashire was to get the “big picture” infrastructure development it needed.
Shru Morris, chief executive of law firm Napthens, said all businesses had a vested interest in the county’s economy and urged them to engage in the process and to come together for the greater good.
She said it was important to make a business case for devolution that cut through the politics and to “keep the message simple”.
Ian Wright, a former MP and national director of business and industrial strategy at the ICAEW, stressed: “Clarity in the business voice and having a single business voice is really important.”
Emma Degg, of the North West Business Leadership Team, pointed out that local government reorganisation or devolution was not an end in itself. She said business needed to work productively with politicians.
She added: “This is the most centralised government we have had for some time.” That meant Lancashire’s message to the Prime Minister had to be how the county could help him deliver his political agenda in areas such as net-zero carbon and international trade.
Urging businesses in the county to “harness the pride they have got in the place” so the county got its fair share of resources, Emma said: “Lancashire is a massive part of the UK economy, not just the North.”
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