BAE’s announcement of massive job cuts at its Lancashire factories last week was a huge blow not just to the workers who have lost their jobs and their families, but to the wider county economy.
What we have just witnessed is the loss of high level, well paid, skilled posts. The type of employment that the government say they need to create to reinvigorate our flagging economy has been sacrificed right here in Preston.
The local economy will suffer as people lose their spending power. Confidence across the business community will be lower than ever. And the devastating effects on the BAE supply chain have not even been calculated fully as yet.
Most of us accept that reduction in public expenditure was inevitable, including in the area of defence. Equally, we have a right to expect our government to mitigate against the worst effects of their spending plans with some positive actions, not merely warm words.
Ironically, last month Lancashire’s recently established Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) put forward a proposal for an Enterprise Zone on the Salmlesbury and Warton sites. These Zones receive special dispensation around issues of planning, rates, commercial costs and so on, making them attractive locations in which to invest.
To most people’s surprise and disappointment, the government knocked back the Lancashire bid. I am delighted that the chancellor has now reviewed that decision, but in light of this latest news, it simply isn’t enough. Lancashire not only needs and Enterprise Zone, but an Enterprise Zone PLUS!
If this situation had arisen in Manchester or Liverpool, you can bet your bottom dollar that a series of initiatives would have emerged instantaneously. Lancashire has become a forgotten county. That must not be allowed to continue.
The newly announced Enterprise Zone needs to include a well funded training facility for people to retrain and re-skill. We need a business start up zone where we offer people advice, support and guidance on how to start their own business – and give them some financial help and tax benefits along the way. The chancellor should put his money where his mouth is and provide ‘match funding’ to the County Council’s excellent Rosebud scheme, improving access to finance for existing and new businesses right across the region.
Most of all, we need our politicians to remember how important Lancashire is to the wider North West economy, get behind some radical investment plans for this great county, and give us the innovative Enterprise Zone we not only desperately need, but fully deserve.
Most of all, what Lancashire needs is a little less conversation, a little more action.