Q: What investment opportunities are there for Lancashire?
A: Lancashire was the birthplace of the industrial revolution; we continue to have a very strong workforce in manufacturing. In areas like Blackburn, about 25% of the workforce actually get up every day and go and make something.
We continue to grow these businesses. We export the things we produce in Lancashire all over the world, that is, food and drink as well as high-end textiles. We’re really moving into advanced manufacturing and high-end technology. Someone said to me recently: ‘Lancashire is one of the only places in the UK that could actually feed itself.’
We have a number of enterprise zones, which is a big government initiative that is trying to de-tax certain areas. We have put a real focus on bringing in enterprise zones for the aerospace industry. It is the fourth largest aerospace hub in the world and the biggest in the UK. Quite a lot of our industries are focused around that. We have a big enterprise zone outside BAE Systems. We are looking at bringing in the supply chain, like Boeing, to come in and support that particular industry.
The new high-speed train link that is rolling out of London is going to connect London and Scotland, and comes through Preston. That gives us a real opportunity in terms of an investment hub. A lot of foreign money see this as an investment opportunity. The Chinese are particularly interested, especially in engineering and infrastructure type of investments.
Q: Could you elaborate on the enterprise zones?
A: Companies that come to these zones are offered a tax break. We can bid into government for money, in terms of putting in infrastructure and building facilities. There are a number of incentives we can give to bring industry and jobs into a particular area, and they all relate to aerospace-type industries. We are also well-known for nuclear energy, wind energy and green forms of energy, so there are enterprise zones around that.
Q: Why else should investors come to Lancashire?
A: Lancashire is uniquely placed in the UK market. We are incredibly well connected, especially to Scotland and London, [and are near] international airports in Manchester and Liverpool. If you look at the Lancashire economy – and particularly the northern economy – it’s bigger than some European countries. The quality of life is really good and the cost of living is not as expensive [as London]. In terms of skills and workforce, we have a large number of universities; four in Lancashire and about 20 across the north.
Q: What is deterring more investment?
A: Lancashire is in the middle and to go north and south is really easy; HS2 [the high-speed train link] will prove that. But to go east to west we sometimes struggle a little bit with that, so we are looking for further investment into road and rail. We are looking at rail solutions to link the east of the county with Leeds and Yorkshire; also to achieve better connectivity into Manchester. We are trying to raise the profile of Lancashire; we’re conscious that there’s a lot of foreign overseas investment [to be won].