Taking a team approach
Steve Fogg believes it is vital to bring ‘Team Lancashire’ together if the county is to work its way out of the coronavirus crisis threatening large parts of its economy.
The Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) that he chairs has moved quickly, both to support businesses during lockdown and to start the planning and decision making that will be needed to get the economy moving again.
That includes ensuring Lancashire’s developing industrial strategy is fit to meet the demands that emerging from the crisis will bring. It means looking at the county’s economy and its industries in a whole new light.
Steve, who has a wealth of experience from a career forged at BAE Systems, is clear that recovery won’t be easy. He says: “Some challenges are yet to emerge.
“When the furlough scheme starts to end, we are going to see more job losses it seems and more businesses struggle.”
That makes the work now being done in the county to map out its economic future even more vital. He says: “We are discussing with business leaders how we get out of this.”
The LEP had its economic strategic framework in place before the pandemic, as part of its work to forge the local strategy. That work was aimed at delivering growth. The members of the business sector groups that it has created are now sharply focused on finding paths to recovery.
We need to invest and innovate our way out of this crisis
Steve explains that it is an approach that was put in place before Covid – the pandemic has magnified “the need to move at a faster pace”.
He adds: “We are creating a set of sector groups that can start to talk to us about what they are feeling, what it is like on the ground. What tasks they would have us do. We are looking at what is needed in Lancashire to make a difference.”
That examination is wide-ranging. Amongst other things it takes in infrastructure, education, skills and health. Steve talks about his serious concerns about the impact of the pandemic on mental health, particularly on young people.
He adds: “It will also get into finance, how do we get better finance for businesses in Lancashire, how do we bring that investment into Lancashire?”
The sector groups have been set up in key parts of Lancashire’s economy, including low carbon energy, manufacturing, digital, health and food and agriculture.
Different sectors have different challenges. Steve says: “Tourism and leisure are going to find it really tough.” The focus there is on reopening safely. “I know people are working hard to do that,” he adds.
Steve says that when it comes to manufacturing, it is important to focus on the whole range of work carried out in Lancashire, and not just on its advanced manufacturing. Better digital connectivity is also vital to the county’s future wellbeing.
Meanwhile, the LEP board is starting to think about “strategic interventions” the government needs to make with it. Also, how Lancashire gets closer to the Northern Powerhouse. Steve talks about using “leverage and connections” to get what Lancashire needs.
And he adds that through the NP11 board, made up of the chairs of each of the Local Enterprise Partnerships in the North of England, Lancashire is also reaching out to its neighbours to form helpful relationships. Steve is also calling on central government to increase investment in the digital skills, infrastructure and connectivity in the county.
He says: “It is clear to me that we need to invest and innovate our way out of this economic crisis and I would encourage businesses to continue to invest.
“To help I am calling on government to provide a new multi-billion-pound investment fund to help stimulate the economy. I am also asking that we revisit our procurement practices and invest in local and national supply chains, with a shift in focus towards the economic and social value we create, away from sourcing based solely on cost.”
Throughout the crisis Steve says he has been heartened, though not surprised, by the “ambition and resilience” of people across the county.
He says: “People want to support, to do the right thing.” And he adds: “It is about how we can bring ‘Team Lancashire’ together.”
He says of the sector groups: “They are business-led for a reason. They’ll create the drive.” And he stresses: “This can’t be a talking shop. It got to define actions that are going to make a difference to Lancashire.”
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