“We must get this one right.”
That is the call today from respected business chiefs who fear a bid to bring thousands of new jobs to an enterprise zone at Blackpool Airport could stall before take off.
The development of the Warton Enterprise Zone has been painfully slow and we cannot afford the same mistakes to happen at Blackpool
Commerce bosses say the group behind the ambitious move must avoid the “mistakes” which have blighted similar plans on the Fylde coast.
The North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce has slammed the existing enterprise zone at Warton, which was supposed to help bring in thousands of new jobs, saying its development has been “painfully slow” and consultation with local firms has been poor.
The chamber has criticised the zone after Government ministers in December were critical of the group behind it – the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership.
The enterprise zone based at BAE Systems’ sites at Warton and Samlesbury, designed to entice major firms into the area by offering perks such as business rate relief, had failed to deliver any new jobs four years after the plans were tabled.
The LEP earlier this year announced Blackpool Airport would be added to the zone based around BAE Systems’ two sites.
It was estimated the idea could create 3,000 new jobs at the airport site.
But president of the chamber Norman Tenray has hit out again at the LEP – and warned the airport plans risk making the same mistakes unless things improve.
Mr Tenray said: “The development of the Warton Enterprise Zone has been painfully slow and we cannot afford the same mistakes to happen at Blackpool.
“The Chancellor recognised the potential that we have here in Blackpool when he announced that the Warton Zone would be extended to include land alongside our Airport.
“Now Blackpool cannot afford any further protraction on business development.
“The LEP must apply the lessons learned from Warton and apply them to Blackpool.
“Crucially it must learn to consult with the businesses already located on the
proposed site and work with all stakeholders to make things happen on time and to budget.
“It is about time Lancashire’s LEP started talking to the businesses it is meant to be supporting and give them a real say on where money is spent in the county.”
The chamber issued the criticism after questioning firms countywide about the design and implementation of the LEP’s ‘Strategic Economic Plan’ (SEP) for the county.
The plan sets out the LEP’s objectives for the next 10 years and aims to “re-establish
Lancashire as an economic powerhouse”.
n An £11m programme to improve ‘competitive strength’ by boosting the aerospace, automotive and energy sectors.
n A £57m research programme at the University of Central Lancashire aimed at creating regional centres of excellence for industry and training.
n A £47m Skills for Growth programme, with the creation of a huge training hub for apprenticeships.
Mr Tenray said the survey, carried out amid the Chamber’s Quarterly Economic Survey, found only two per cent of businesses had been consulted on the plan.
Sixty per cent said they had not been consulted.
And asked if they would like to be consulted on what the LEP’s priorities should be, 76 per cent said ‘yes’.
Following an independent review in 2011, Lancashire LEP adopted a ‘best business case’ model to direct available resources into investment priorities and a strategic outlook that focuses on key areas for development.
Those areas included funding business growth/business support programmes, promoting inward investment, improving infrastructure, creating a unique identity for Lancashire, creating jobs, developing new industries and developing and improving skills.
Mr Tenray said: “Since the formation of the LEP, a number of initiatives have been created to try to improve the economic performance of the county.
“However, momentum on these initiatives has been slow and benefits from many of the programmes have yet to filter through.
“This has raised questions about the effectiveness of the LEP, how well it communicates with local stakeholders and whether it is being run transparently and openly.”
Gary Lovatt, FSB Chairman for Lancashire said: “The LEP has done some good things for the businesses in the county including the Boost Business Lancashire support programme which many
businesses have benefitted from.
“There is a need to have a small business on the main LEP Board to improve representation.”
The LEP is a creative collaboration of leaders from business, universities and local councils, who direct economic growth and direct job creation in the county.
It was formed in 2011 following the Government’s decision to scrap regional development agencies and replace them with smaller and less costly LEPs.
The Warton and Samlesbury enterprise zone was approved in 2011 for the two sites and was supposed to be the jewel in the LEP’s crown attracting dozens of new hi-tech businesses to the county and creating 6,000 jobs in the development and at supply firms.
But a letter from Penny Mordaunt, a junior minister in the Local Government
department, dated November 27, criticised the LEP’s progress on the zone.
The letter stated: “The Lancashire Enterprise Zone continues to be a major concern to the government.
“Lancashire is the worst performing enterprise zone in the country.
“It is the only zone not to have attracted any new businesses or to have created any new jobs.”
Blackpool Airport was included in the enterprise zone in March in a budget announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
It aims to create 3,000 jobs around the unused parts of the airport where more than 100 jobs were lost last October when owners Balfour Beatty decided to close the loss-making operation.
It has since reopened on a smaller scale and Blackpool Council, local MPs and Lancashire LEP worked together to propose including it in the enterprise zone area.
Martin Kelly, speaking on behalf of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, said: “The Lancashire Enterprise Partnership is committed to creating the right environment for businesses to
flourish, with a track record of making a real difference to the county’s businesses and
its economy as a whole.
“We have developed a growth programme worth nearly £1bn, including the £454m Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal, which will transform the area’s infrastructure, and the Lancashire Growth Deal which will see work continue on 30 major projects funded through £250m plus of government funding.
“We have welcomed the first tenants to the Lancashire Enterprise Zone, which now includes part of the Blackpool Airport site, bringing the first of up to 13,000 jobs.”
“Our Growing Places
investment scheme is enabling developments to get off the ground. And we have just announced that BOOST Business Lancashire, the county’s £7.2m growth hub, has worked with 2,000 local SME businesses, creating 400 new jobs.”