Sarah Kemp: Leading the fightback
The inevitable damage wreaked on Lancashire’s economy by the coronavirus crisis makes Sarah Kemp’s new high-profile role even more crucial.
Sarah is the new chief executive of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and has taken the helm in unprecedented times.
What is already a challenging job has been made even more so by the impact of the global pandemic on every business in Lancashire.
She will need all the experience gained in local government and regional economic development to help deliver the LEP’s growth plans for the county – plans which are now more important now than ever once Lancashire moves into recovery mode.
In her most recent role as executive director at Sefton Council, Sarah led on the development and implementation of an ambitious £150m strategic investment programme.
It was aimed at stimulating the economy, creating new jobs and businesses and generating new sources of cash for the local authority.
Before arriving on Merseyside, Sarah had roles at Midas, Manchester’s inward investment agency and the old North West Development Agency.
Her work in those organisations saw her lead economic development and regeneration in the North West and Greater Manchester, developing internationally competitive sectors, trade, inward investment, business support, and cluster development.
We're seeing lots of companies innovating and reinventing, changing the way they do business.
Little wonder Steve Fogg, who chairs the LEP, describes her as, “a great asset” for both the organisation and Lancashire. Sarah’s appointment followed an extensive recruitment and selection process. She began her new job at the end of April.
For her part, Sarah describes Lancashire as “an extraordinary place to work and do business”, pointing to the size of its economy, its world-class universities, and its emerging enterprise zones.
She is also well aware of its challenges, including the fact the county’s local authorities have not been able to come together to deliver a devolution deal that would unlock major funds from central government.
Sarah says that “getting people pulling in one direction” is a critical part of her new role.
And she adds: “Coming from Merseyside, there’s one game in town and that’s the devo deal through the combined authority. It is about building trust and partnership around that opportunity; that’s where the funds are flowing at the moment.”
Sarah believes the LEP has the ability to build those relationship and her understanding of the way local government works will help.
She adds: “It is about achieving a common consensus about what is possible for Lancashire.
“The government looks for that consensus before committing big funds. They like credible players and organisations that can deliver and prove they can deliver.”
That, she says, is Greater Manchester’s strength. “It built a reputation very quickly with government about being able to deliver.”
Sarah explains that is not just about Lancashire becoming that “credible player” in the eyes of government, it is about being able to compete on a global platform.
And it is not just about economic benefits. She stresses that “inclusive” growth is vitally important for Lancashire. “The one thing you can do for any individual that has the greatest impact on their life outcome is to make sure they have a job.”
Sarah believes that the local industrial strategy being drawn up the LEP may need to be tweaked so it is “still relevant” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on Lancashire business.
That strategy will support all future investment activity and position Lancashire’s key sectors and supply chain strengths and opportunities – “driven by productivity, innovation and internationalisation”.
She is also confident that Lancashire is resilient and will rebound from the damage caused by the crisis. And she points out that the situation is very different from the economic crisis of 2007-8, sparked by structural failures that took years to address.
Highlighting the innovation of Lancashire businesses, she says: “We’re already seeing that ability to be resilient and survive.
“We’re seeing lots of companies innovating and reinventing, changing the way they do business.
“The challenge is how many people will have lost their jobs and how many businesses have gone down. It will be about doing things to create jobs quickly and get people back to work.”
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