West Lancashire a hotspot full of potential

Business representatives from across West Lancashire and the rest of the county gathered in Skelmersdale to discuss the opportunities for skills and development.

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The Question Time-style panel event was hosted by Lancashire Business View in association with West Lancashire Borough Council at the Best Western Lancashire Manor Hotel.

Kim Webber, who was appointed chief executive of the Council in March, took part in a Q and A before the main panel discussion.

She said: “One of the biggest highlights early on in my post is seeing our plans start to become a reality after creating a structure within the borough to deliver growth.

“There is a great demand for business in West Lancashire; our industrial estates are full and we are working to boost skills by linking our education institutions with businesses. Business success is our community’s success and vice versa.

“Our big idea is to become a commercial council and engage even more with businesses to promote West Lancashire as the place to be.”

Guest panellists at the event included Andy Wood, HR director at Trelleborg Offshore UK; Maria Gilling, principal of West Lancashire College; Frank McKenna, economic development champion for West Lancashire Borough Council and Steve Jones, co-founder of Fairbanks.

Andy Wood, who oversees HR for more than 400 employees in Skelmersdale and the surrounding areas, said: “There is tremendous competition for skills within the borough when it comes to recruiting.

“We work hard to get in to schools to talk about careers and inspire young people to one day have the right skills to come in to this industry, in their local area and for a local firm.

“We very much feel part of the fabric and history of the area.”

Maria Gilling, who has more than 25 years’ experience in Further Education and is also a member of the Newcastle College Group (NCG) executive team, said: “Our purpose is to unlock potential through learning and to help businesses unlock their potential through providing them with properly trained staff with the best skills.

“We want to transition our training and apprenticeship provision to meet the needs of employers in the borough.

“Our workforce is loyal to the area and a great asset to it, as is the whole organisation. We’re not just a qualification factory; we have a theatre, a salon and restaurant; all things that could and should be used by the wider community.”

Frank McKenna, who is also chairman of Downton Business in Lancashire and a councillor within the borough, said: “West Lancashire is very well placed in the county, between Liverpool and Manchester, it is bang in the heart of the Northern Powerhouse. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be here.

“Businesses in West Lancashire need to look to both the county and to Liverpool and use its location as a strength rather than see it as a challenge. It’s our job to make sure that the county knows what we are doing and sees our influence.”

Steve Jones, whose firm employs 200 staff and supplies more than 13,000 forecourts across 35 countries, said: “Our firm was recently acquired by American firm OPW, which gives us access to new markets in the likes of the USA, China and Brazil.

“They see us as a centre of excellence in Skelmersdale and want to keep the main operation here. It’s great news for staff, customers, our brand and the borough.

“We’re here to do business and that requires a strong network of skilled people and a community. We have a large number of staff that are graduates from Edge Hill and West Lancashire College help to upskill our existing staff.

“We’re proud to be here and it’s a great place to do business.”

Richard Slater, publisher of Lancashire Business View, said: “Events like this help the business and public sector communities to learn from each other and share ideas. “Creating a better understanding of what’s happening on the ground is good for business.”