Devolution: Lancashire misses out on trade mission to China

A high-powered delegation is in China lobbying for the Northern Powerhouse – but Lancashire officials are nowhere to be seen.​

Chancellor George Osborne is using a week-long tour to showcase the best the North has to offer to Chinese investors.

Chancellor George Osborne in China this week

Chancellor George Osborne in China this week

The Northern Powerhouse delegation trip is made up mainly of the core of local authorities who have been promised devolution.

But in Lancashire, its 15 local authorities have yet to come up with an agreed strategy on how to proceed.

Today local authorities said they had strong economic and educational ties with China, and denied the county was missing out through not being ready to join the Powerhouse.

The county is made up of Lancashire County Council, the unitary authorities of Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen, and 12 district councils.

Discussions are ongoing at a Lancashire level regarding a combined authority, which would play into the devolution agenda in the future.

The Treasury says councils must speak to each other about what is wanted for the county, even if they don’t come together as a combined authority.

The Lancashire authorities agree in principle about working together – but it will be later this year when they go back to each individual council with detailed recommendations.

A Preston Council spokesman said: “Northern Powerhouse is involving major cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield etc and ties in with the Government’s wider devolution agenda.

“Discussions are ongoing at a Lancashire level regarding a combined authority, which would play into the devolution agenda in the future.”

A Lancashire County Council spokesman also would not be drawn on the implications by the county’s economic leaders not being represented in China.

He said: “Lancashire has a long and continuing history of close links with China, particularly through our world-class universities and high-tech manufacturing sector, as well as our links with individual Chinese provinces.

“International links are built up by continued contact over time and a visit from a delegation from the region can only enhance our relationship with China.”

Downtown in Business chief Frank McKenna has welcomed recent progress on a combined authority for Lancashire, which he said would “at least get the Red Rose county in the mix.”

He said recently: “For some time I have bemoaned the fact that Lancashire has been side-lined by the emphasis on cities as the principle economic drivers.

“The government, with some justification, could argue back and say that, unlike Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle, Lancashire had done little to progress a devolution programme itself.”

Chinese investment abounds in Lancashire, and Preston itself has played host to delegations in the past.

The county’s universities also has close ties with China.

The Chancellor is using his trip to encourage Chinese companies to come forward and support a huge pipeline of exciting new projects.

Among the companies known to be on this week’s China trip were Halite, the company behind plans to store gas under the countryside near Preesall.

£24bn investment opportunities

Chancellor George Osborne also showcased a selection of £24 billion worth of investment opportunities in the North of England at an event in Chengdu.

The Chancellor said there were unprecedented opportunities for Chinese investment into the Northern Powerhouse as the UK and China enter a golden era of economic cooperation.

Projects such as the Atlantic Gateway - a series of projects connecting the Port of Liverpool to the City of Manchester; and Science Central, a cutting-edge development in the heart of Newcastle, were being set out today.

Mr Osborne was also announcing:

• A new service, established by Lancaster University, to bring together UK and Chinese universities, researchers and businesses.

• Potentially doubling Enterprise Zones across the North

• Commissioning a new Government report looking at existing links between UK and Chinese cities to help us better understand how we can attract more trade with China

• A commitment to reinvigorate partnerships between Northern and Chinese cities.