The new Northern Powerhouse Minister Andrew Percy vowed to be “the voice of the north in Central Government” when he addressed business leaders from across the county in Burnley.
The MP signed an agreement to make Lancashire LEP the first Local Enterprise Partnership to officially become a Northern Powerhouse partner, at an event held at Turf Moor.
I want to make absolutely clear that all areas of the north are important to the Northern Powerhouse.Northern Powerhouse Minister Andrew Percy MP
He was welcomed on stage by host, broadcaster Tony Livesey, who also put questions to Edwin Booth, chairman of the LEP, and Simon Blackburn, from the Lancashire Combined Authority.
The guests were first greeted to a promotional video presented by Marketing Lancashire’s Ruth Connor, which showcased the economic and social strengths of the county.
Indeed, Mr Percy joked it had the “evangelical zeal of a Donald Trump rally.”
Mrs Connor said: “We need to light up a world class Lancashire. The LEP was established in 2011 when businesses said there needed to be a strong consistent idea.
“We were quite fragmented then, but there was plenty of positivity. Indeed, off the Richter Scale in terms of positivity was the shared belief that Lancashire was a great place to live and do business.”
Backing up these bold assertions are the fact that Lancashire hosts the UK’s largest aerospace industry and the fourth in the world.
It is also the only area in the country to have four Enterprise Zones, and Burnley was named several years ago the most enterprising area in the country.
Echoing these sentiments, Mr Booth, the chairman of the LEP, said that “Lancastrians are beneficiaries of our geography.”
It was pointed out that Lancashire has links to five major motorways, two ports and is a two hour train journey to London.
Mr Booth added: “We have the potential to link with the world. We are going to provide the energy for this county.”
Mr Percy, only recently appointed as the new Northern Powerhouse Minister, moved to reassure fears the project would never take off, and also that the big cities of Manchester and Leeds would dominate at the expense of the counties.
He said: “All voices are equal. I want to make absolutely clear that all areas of the north are important to the Northern Powerhouse. Lancashire is very much at the heart.
“The plans remain unchanged. We are absolutely committed as a government to the Northern Powerhouse and expanding it even further.
“The National Industrial Strategy is so important. We have seen 187,000 jobs created in the north in the last year and we will soon see long overdue new rolling stock for our railways. It’s not for Whitehall to determine what a successful north looks like, it’s got to be from the bottom up.”
Building on the theme of Lancashire’s connectivity to the world, Mr Percy revealed that foreign investment in the north had grown twice as fast as anywhere else in the UK.
Asked about the impact of Brexit, Mr Percy, a committed Brexiteer, said that people in the north had felt frustrated with decision-makers and disconnected.
He added: “Brexit offers new markets outside of Europe. Lancashire’s advanced manufacturing industries puts it in a stronger position than the rest of the country with unique advantages.”
The question of a possible future elected Mayor for Lancashire was also put to the panel with Mr Booth and Mr Blackburn admitting it was likely.
Mr Booth said: “There is a will for one. I think the first spin of the dice should be to have a Mayor-lite. It should be an evolutionary process.”
Businesses moving to an Enterprise Zone benefit from a range of tax breaks and local support, such as simplified planning, to help them grow – including business rate discounts worth up to £275,000 per business over five years.