A sleeping giant would be the best way to describe Lancashire, certainly in terms of its political influence. The failure of its 99 local councils to come to an agreement on establishing a shadow Combined Authority, a resistance to the idea of having a mayor, and a new regime at County Hall that appears to be intent on unpicking much of the good work that Rachel McQueen and her team at Marketing Lancashire in particular had led, makes it difficult to be overly optimistic about the future of the Red Rose County.
However, Michael Gove is due to present his Levelling-Up White Paper in February, the politicians have at least been able to come together to present a ‘Plan for Greater Lancashire’, and the cohort of MPs across the county are among the more impressive in parliament.
Against this backdrop, it is easy to see how, despite the best efforts of Lancashire County Council’s current leadership, the county will be dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century as far as its political structures are concerned.
The fact that its surrounding regions of Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, and Merseyside all have heavyweight figureheads in the shape of Tracy Brabin, Andy Burnham, and Steve Rotheram lobbying Westminster directly on behalf of their regions, has inevitable meant that Lancashire has been a peripheral player in the context of the Northern Powerhouse, and has lost literally millions of pounds worth of investment as a result.
The abandonment of the City of Culture bid sent all the wrong signals to Whitehall officials and investors alike about Lancashire’s ambition.
Nevertheless, the city of Preston continues to progress, with a range of regeneration projects and city centre improvements underway. The business community is as resilient as ever too, and with the traditional jewel in the crown that is the county’s aerospace industry, a strong manufacturing base, and a growing tech sector, and one of the best business support programmes available through its BOOST initiative, politics aside, Lancashire has much to be cheerful about moving forward.
Indeed, if the new Minister for Levelling-Up can persuade his Conservative colleagues in County Hall to support his likely reform proposals, then Lancashire could be about to take its rightful place, front and centre, at the Northern Powerhouse table.
One to watch: Michael Gove. His Levelling Up White Paper could force Lancashire’s councils to co-operate in the same way as government officials forced through a single Lancashire Enterprise Partnership in 2011, when some in the county wanted three LEPs!
Key Downtown Event: What Next for Lancashire? – a roundtable event with some of the county’s leading business owners and decision-makers. March 2022 Details available from firstname.lastname@example.org