Leading figures in Burnley have slammed a report branding the town one of the UK’s “most struggling” areas.
The study, carried out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, looked at the state of 74 cities based on employment rates, the number of full-time jobs, migration and population change.
Only Rochdale is in worse decline than Burnley according to the research with ten of the top 12 most declining UK cities to be found in the north of England.
Andy Pike, co-author of the report and professor of local and regional development at Newcastle University, said: “Economic and social conditions in UK cities are diverging and increasingly different. Many cities in the north are growing but are failing to keep up with national trends.”
He added: “If the commitment to rebalancing in the UK is meaningful then greater policy attention and resources by central and local government needs to be focused upon the particular needs of these cities lagging behind.”
However, the “out of date” report, based on figures from 2011, has been rubbished by critics across the borough who are adamant the town is anything but in decline.
Burnley businessman Stephen Ackers, managing director of MendIT, says these outdated labels are nothing but unhelpful and while the town may not yet be part of a “northern powerhouse” it is far from being a poorhouse.
“The last Burnley workhouse (otherwise known as poorhouses) was either converted into the hospital we use today or demolished in 2008 so the suggestion that Burnley is itself part of a ‘poorhouse’ came as quite the surprise.
“The same Burnley that won the UK’s ‘Most Enterprising Area’ just three years ago; the same Burnley that brought together over 100 businesses with its unique and proud Bondholders scheme; the same Burnley that has attracted millions and millions of pounds of new investment, the same Burnley that has a football team par excellence!
“The irony is that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation aims to ‘inspire social change’ – what more could they ask for? Are we even talking about the same place?
“Burnley is home to some of the UK’s megabrands and has titans of engineering amongst its number. The town has higher than regional average employment in certain occupations – financial and insurance being one of them. My own company MendIT doubled its turnover each year for the first three years, winning the Everline Future 50 Award for being one of the UK’s most disruptive insurance companies.
“What the study doesn’t show, what it can’t report on is potential and community spirit which Burnley is rolling in. The way everybody pulled together in the recent flooding is a perfect example of that. Having national newspapers attach an outdated label to a town is more than unhelpful, it’s potential damaging.
Maybe we’re not part of a Powerhouse just yet, but we’ve got bags of pride, momentum and we mustn’t be discouraged. Everywhere in Burnley innovation and inspiration builds...unlike our poorhouses of the past, which is where we’d prefer to leave them.”
Council leader Mark Townsend hailed Burnley as a true “comeback town”, one that while hampered by fierce governement cuts, is continuing to grow year after year.
More than £800 million has been invested in business, retail, leisure, education and housing infrastructure in the last 10 years and Coun. Townsend said he was proud of the direction Burnley was heading in.
“Reports like this do not help especially when they are based on out of date figures. This does not reflect Burnley now. A place which has been voted most enterprising place in the UK, a town in the top 10 for private sector job growth.
“Burnley has attracted several blue chip companies in the past two years creating 1,300 jobs (Exertis, Panaz, Vodafone UK Ltd, to name a few) Endsleigh Insurance giant have expanded to new offices here in Burnley creating an additional 100 new jobs.
“Several big planning applications have recently been received reflecting confidence in the town – resulting in improved housing offer.
“Burnley may have been in decline a few years ago but that has been reversed and it is now experiencing real growth. It is a town that is going places.”
Burnley MP Julie Cooper added: “The headline news of this report is deeply worrying, however having read the report thoroughly, first of all I have to question the reason for the inclusion of Burnley in a comparative study which is predominantly concerned with cities and large towns. Burnley is none of these and therefore the comparisons are skewed.
“I note that Burnley is classified as an ‘overshadowed’ city which is defined as a city with larger cities nearby that make competition for employment and population difficult. Of course Burnley is never going to be able to compete with the likes of Preston and Manchester.
“Also Burnley is defined as a town in ‘relative decline’ as opposed to ‘absolute decline’. The report recommends that remedial action would come in the form of: 1. Investment in infrastructure with particular focus on transport links; 2, Regeneration of industrial buildings; 3, Investment in skills.
“These have all already been identified and work is well on the way e.g. Manchester rail link, On the Banks regeneration programme, Bondholder focus on skills. All key stakeholders and leaders are on board with all these and progress is being made.
“Undoubtedly we have a long way to go but travel is in the right direction. Burnley would definitely benefit from genuine investment in a “Northern Powerhouse” but as yet there has been little evidence to suggest that the Government will deliver on this. In the meantime we march forward in spite of the Government’s inactivity and it is certainly not all doom and gloom.”