Words: Richard Slater
This time last year we shared with our readers the challenges we believed they would face in 2022. We didn’t know the half of it.
It was a year that saw war in Europe, crippling energy bills, soaring inflation, a disastrous Budget that brought turmoil and the political uncertainty of three prime ministers in just two months, not to mention the pandemic hangover and growing skills shortage.
This year the only firm prediction that we are prepared to make is that Lancashire businesses will once again show their resilience and harness their innovation to face whatever the next 12 months throws at them.
Amid the economic uncertainty there are many areas that look encouraging for the county. Our automotive sector is taking advantage of the journey towards electrification, carbon reduction initiatives and the focus on ensuring robust supply chains post-Brexit and Covid.
Defence giant BAE Systems’ Lancashire plants will play a key role in the development of the UK’s next generation fighter aircraft under the new ‘Global Combat Air Programme’ announced in December.
The project is set to bring £26bn into the UK economy, with forecasts that a substantial amount of that figure will find its way into Lancashire.
There is also plenty of optimism around the plans to site the new National Cyber Force headquarters in Samlesbury and with it the promise of thousands of highly skilled roles.
Ambitious regeneration projects are also set to breathe new life into town centres such as Leyland, which has received £25m of government funding for its proposals.
The new year has already seen more good news. Lancashire will receive almost £200m in government levelling up cash to ‘spark transformational change’ – including £50m for Eden Project North. The planned Morecambe attraction will be a true ‘gamechanger’.
Blackpool will receive £40m to deliver a new ‘Multiversity’ in the Talbot Gateway Central Business District. There is also £20m to regenerate Accrington town centre. Preston and other areas of east Lancashire will also benefit from the Levelling Up Fund.
Lancashire also received a pre-Christmas boost with the announcement of more than £30m from the government’s Shared Prosperity Fund.
This cash is being handed out to local councils across the county. However, while the money was widely welcomed, some authorities were quick to point out that the amount received was less than the EU funding which the programme has replaced.
The largest amount, £6.7m has been handed to Blackburn with Darwen Council which will use it to advance the £250m masterplan for Blackburn town centre and the £100m Darwen town deal.
So, grounds for cautious optimism? On reflection I’d say yes, led by the ‘can do’ attitude of Lancashire’s business community and its record of continuing to deliver, whatever challenges it faces.
Resilience, innovation and inspiration remain our greatest assets.
Richard Slater, chairman, Lancashire Business View