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Chair of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership Reflects on 2020 and Outlines his Aspirations for Lancashire in 2021

At the start of the year, the LEP Board came together to develop its Strategic Framework, an ambitious plan to increase productivity, grow businesses and create jobs for our residents.  Filled with optimism for the future direction of the Lancashire economy, we began to engage with partners to determine how we could start to implement the ambitions of the Framework.

No one could have predicted that by March, these aspirations and growth ambitions would be replaced by business survival and stabilisation with the advent of Covid-19.  Virtually overnight, many of our businesses experienced significant drops in revenues as they were either forced to close altogether, orders were cancelled or they were unable to fulfil orders due to disruptions in the supply chain.  What started as a health crisis quickly turned into an economic crisis, and we were hearing on almost a daily basis of businesses closing and people losing their livelihoods, particularly in some of our key sectors such as aerospace and tourism.  It was truly heart breaking but a stark reality of what was happening within our county and the UK.

However out of adversity comes opportunity and it wasn’t long before the grit and innovative flair which Lancashire is renowned for, and which makes me proud to be a Lancastrian, started to emerge.

Despite facing unprecedented challenges to survive, business leaders took the time to take part on our sector groups, whereby collectively they shared their experiences, expertise and insight into what their sectors were having to do to adapt and the support their industry needed over the immediate and medium term.  This gave the LEP and our partners the real-time evidence they needed to inform conversations with government to ensure their voices were heard and the intervention packages were relevant to our businesses.  The Lancashire Aerospace Recovery Plan, developed by the Lancashire Aerospace Task Force, has garnered support amongst many of our stakeholders who have collectively agreed to work together to implement the recommendations from the report and raise the profile of the plight of the civil aerospace sector in our region within Westminster.   We will be publishing similar recovery plans for our other key sectors in the New Year and the impact of further restrictions on our tourism and hospitality sectors in particular remains a huge concern but by adopting a collaborative approach, I am hopeful we will be able to reverse the current downward trends and minimise job losses.

As the pandemic continued to have a hold on our economy, we began to hear amazing examples of entrepreneurship and innovation throughout our business community.  Many of our manufacturers made use of their skills and know-how to help in the fight against this terrible pandemic by diversifying into PPE and ventilator production whilst securing the short-term viability of their businesses.

Some of our innovation assets, such as Uclan’s Engineering and Innovation Centre temporary re-purposed their advanced technology facility, by converting an area of their building into one of the country’s most advanced COVID LAMP testing facility.  This not only provided a vital facility, but also gave students the opportunity to develop their skills and gain experience in other areas, thereby broadening their scope for future opportunities.

At short notice, the LEP was asked by Government asked to submit details of scheme which were ‘shovel ready’ and could create jobs.  The immense co-ordinated effort of all our partners to identify relevant projects meant Lancashire was able to secure £34.1m from the Getting Building Fund.  This would not have happened if we hadn’t pulled together and worked as one for the benefit of the county.

We still do not fully understand the extent to which Covid-19 has affected our economy and it will be some time before we do.   But I am optimistic that the New Year, whilst not without challenges, will bring opportunities.  Some sectors will remain in survival mode and it will be some time before they begin to return to growth.  However sectors such as energy and low carbon have demonstrated real resilience and our undeniable expertise in this sector alongside the diversification opportunities for adjacent sectors means we are well placed for our economy to recover and provide jobs.

There is no question we have a long way to go, but I am seeing a new future here and I am genuinely excited by it.  We will not go back to ‘how things were’ and 2021 will be a pivotal moment in Lancashire where we will need to readjust, refocus and redefine our offer.  It is our reaction to adversity and not the adversity itself which will determine our future, and I am confident that by working together in a truly collaborative and partnership way, Lancashire will become stronger and we will have a positive impact on our businesses and residents.

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