This week two great counties of the north, Lancashire and Yorkshire, have been in the news, but for very different reasons.
BAE systems, the huge aerospace manufacturer that is a key partner in the Red Rose county’s economic strategy, announced 750 job losses on the back of contract losses, and government spending cuts in its defence budget. In addition to the direct job reductions, there is a big number of supply chain companies in Lancashire that will take a hit too.
Though Lancashire, through Ruth Connor’s Marketing Lancashire team, have worked hard to promote the county and its offer over the past few years, this activity has not been matched by the politicians or the Local Enterprise Partnership.
The progress that was being made towards devolution and a Combined Authority has gone into reverse. The LEP economic strategy has perhaps been too reliant on a strong BAE, and failed to diversify its offer and ambition enough. In particular, the snail’s pace development and regeneration of Preston – which celebrates its sixteenth anniversary as a city next year – is an absolute travesty.
Meanwhile, across the Pennines, the White Rose county was making headlines as its political leaders, or at least some of them, pushed for ‘One Yorkshire’ devolution model. The Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry sounded far from convinced that this option would work in the commons debate on the issue this week. And, it does appear that there are a number of council leaders, notably Sheffield, who believe One Yorkshire is too big, and not aligned to economic growth hubs, as other devo areas are.
Whatever your view, the fact that both Yorkshire and Lancashire have been left stationary whilst the Northern Powerhouse train, and the Midlands Engine have progressed, is frustrating for the counties business community.
From the outside looking in, business leaders could be forgiven for thinking that party-political considerations; and worse, personalities, are taking priority over establishing a structure that will best deliver economic growth.
What both Lancashire and Yorkshire need to recognise is that when major blows are dealt to their communities at present, they have less of a voice that their competitor city-regions.
Had a BAE style announcement been made in Liverpool, Manchester, or Birmingham, Mayor Rotheram, Burnham, or Street would have been knocking on the door of Ten Downing Street with a delegation the next day.
It is time for Yorkshire and Lancashire to sort a devo-deal out now.