REVEALED: The economic damage done to Lancashire by Covid - and its ambitious recovery plan
Lancashire has made a £2bn bid to the government for help to repair the “devastating” damage done to some parts of its economy by the coronavirus crisis.
Almost 19,000 Lancashire jobs have so far been lost during the pandemic – and 82 businesses in the county collapsed in May alone. The tourism sector has been particularly hard hit, with a forecast loss of £3bn as a result of the initial lockdown and gradual reopening.
The stark statistics are revealed in a plan for how the region intends to recover from the calamitous effects of Covid-19 on some of its most important industries.
The document – entitled “Redefining Lancashire” – warns that some are at risk of “irreparable damage”, with the fallout likely to be felt most in those already disadvantaged communities that can least afford it.
The alarming analysis accompanies a pitch to ministers for funding to help kick start around 70 so-called “shovel-ready” projects, totalling £683m – as well as a plea for broader support for entire sectors in which businesses have been badly-affected by the lockdown.
A priority list of 16 schemes has also been drawn up, needing £62.5m of upfront cash – including a transport plan for the Eden Project North in Morecambe, the development of nuclear treatment technologies in Preston and the redevelopment of several key sites in Chorley.
“Confidence is at a low ebb at the moment and some of these schemes are really strong offers which have been developed to a stage where the business cases are all there,” explained Stephen Young, Lancashire County Council’s executive director for growth, environment, transport and community services.
“This an opportunity for the government to make [them] happen more quickly and remove some of that uncertainty in the market. Nobody knows what the post-Covid world looks like, but with this level of investment, we know we can overcome those concerns and drive some of these things forward.
“If you look back through history, whenever there has been an economic shock, one of the strongest ways to get out of it is to see investment in infrastructure and building. It creates jobs from day one, leading to the development of something new – which then creates more jobs.”
The plan put to government seeks support to help Lancashire businesses to reopen and the local economy to function in the short-term – as well as preparing for the longer-term effects of the pandemic, including the threat of “significant unemployment growth” once the furlough scheme ends in October.
Over 171,000 Lancashire employees have benefited from the government scheme, which pays 80 percent of an individual’s wages, but which is due to be phased out from the end of July, before ending in October.
The routemap to recovery document also details the desperate challenge facing some of the sectors for which Lancashire is most famed – not least tourism, leisure and hospitality.
Those industries are described as effectively facing three “back-to-back winters” as a result of the hiatus in their operation brought about by the lockdown.
The proposal lays out plans to help people to “visit soon, safely” by redesigning the way businesses operate so that they can continue to function while the county and the country is “living with Covid”.
It reveals plans to establish a Connect Lancashire digital platform to monitor visitor demand. In rural areas, this could mean real-time data being used to identify ‘hot spots’, so that visitors can be redirected to other safe areas to stop.
Meanwhile, the plan states that the county’s coastal areas will press ahead with a short-term, safe, events programme – including Blackpool illuminations – facilitated by measures including pop-up cycle lanes and car parks and temporary refreshment outlets.
Lancashire’s leaders have asked the government to consider extending the furlough scheme for the tourism and hospitality sectors and offering a fresh round of business support grants, including for those firms which were excluded from previous schemes because the rateable value of their properties exceeded the £51,000 threshold.
There is a particular call for clarity for how the wedding sector can start to operate once again, having been left “at a standstill”.
The county also lays out how it seeks to protect Lancashire’s prized position at the heart of the manufacturing and aerospace sectors.
The region has been hit by a “temporary collapse” in demand for advanced engineering and manufacturing products – but the document warns that the drop could yet pose an “existential risk” to the skills and capacity around which those industries are built.
Amongst the proposals to spare the sector are a focus on further developing local supply chains – in the short-term, with a particular specialism in Covid-related products such as PPE and other equipment.
However, the Lancashire routemap also calls for a £10.6m government “intervention” to help redirect those with skills in areas which may ultimately be hit with job losses to growth industries such as clean energy.
Aerospace is described as facing “one of the most challenging crises in its history” in the wake of a collapse in demand – and Lancashire wants to see investment in technology and research, as well as support for small and medium-sized enterprises operating in the sector.
Stephen Young said that the county had provided the government with “a menu” of ways in which it could aid Lancashire’s post-Covid recovery. He also hopes that the investment bid is just the start of a longer story of rejuvenation which has a happier ending than the health and economic catastrophe with which it began.
“We wanted to give the government a range of short and long-term [projects] – sectoral and place-based – spread across Lancashire.
“But we see this as part of an ongoing conversation – not just ‘give us some money’ and we either get a yes or a no and that’s the end of it.
“It’s more about ‘give us some money’, because we want to have a long-term discussion about a range of other things that we want to see coming forward – the total cost of which is actually about £10bn,” Mr. Young added.
Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver said that the area had “come together at this really difficult time to plan a way forward to protect our economy and help it grow in the future”.
He added: “These plans provide an accurate blueprint of where we are now, and the challenges we face – and by working together we can show just how much the county, our residents and our businesses have to offer.”
A pre-existing programme to draw up a Greater Lancashire Plan is continuing, although this will now reflect the reality of the Lancashire economy in light of the effects of the pandemic. It is due to be published next year.
LANCASHIRE’S BIGGEST PLANS - TOTAL VALUE: £62.5m
BLACKBURN WITH DARWEN
Digital education upskilling hub. £523,000
Abingdon Street Market acquisition and rejuvenation – due to be submitted as part of Blackpool’s Future High Street Fund bid in July, but the hope is that it can now secure earlier support than the provisional decision date of October. £3.6m
Houndshill Shopping Centre extension – originally submitted as a Future High Streets Fund fast track scheme in November 2019, but no decision was made by the government at that time. Due to be resubmitted next month, now with the hope of early approval for funding to avoid further “costs and uncertainty”. £5m
Burnley town centre masterplan – Pioneer Place retail and leisure development. £3.6m
Alker Lane – development of light industrial units on the wider Strawberry Fields site. £2.2m
Bengal Street – developing the site currently occupied by a council depot. £7m
Tatton – redevelopment of Tatton rec and former Stagecoach bus depot, with plans for an ‘extra care’ scheme for older people. £5.5m
M55 Heyhouses link road – seeking confirmation of national funding for the delayed project connecting the motorway at the Whitehills roundabout with Cypress Point at Ansdell. £5.8m
Lancashire Centre for Alternative Technologies. £1.5m
Eden Project North, Morecambe – advance transport management and capacity investment. £8m
Low-carbon manufacturing building demonstrator. £2.5m
Pendle Park enabling works. £3.3m
Nuclear materials management – thermal treatment: two technologies, seeking an equal split in investment. £10m
Hillhouse Enterprise Zone – electrical, water and access infrastructure. £504,000
Fleetwood Docks mixed-use regeneration project – fish park and small and medium-sized enterprise development, plus enabling works for housing. £4m