The green shoots of recovery may be being felt in the booming south east – but what about working class towns like Blackpool?
As national figures show the country is bouncing back after suffering the worst downturn since the war, traders, hoteliers and publicans from across the region are getting their share of the boost.
Growth of 0.8 per cent in the past three months means Britain’s economy is now bigger than its pre-recession peak, with the service sector leading the way, at 2.8 per cent above its January 2008 level.
And the gentle trickle-down effect means the dark days of cancelled bookings and tightened purse strings, that impacted heavily on the Fylde Coast’s businesses, are slowly becoming a thing of the past.
StayBlackpool president Claire Smith said: “If you’d asked me this last year I would have said on no level were we feeling that things were improving.
“I kept hearing it said and would think ‘well that might be happening down south but we are not feeling it at all.’
“Last year was really as grim as it gets and was a very challenging season.
“But right from the off this year, and particularly since Easter, there has been a totally different feel to things.
“I think we are seeing signs of recovery, but only just. We are definitely heading out of it.”
The turnaround is being put down to a variety of factors, not just those prompted by Government policies.
Claire added: “Blackpool has done a lot to help itself through the tough times, and one of the reasons we are doing much better is because of the action we have taken during the past couple of years.
“Blackpool has set itself up as one of the best value destinations while people are still looking to budget.
“We were in the midst of it three of four years ago and realised something really big had to be done.
“Marketing Blackpool came up with some great ideas and now we have the Resort Pass, Merlin Big Ticket, and the special online deals that the Pleasure Beach is offering. It looks as though many people who are sitting at home thinking we have got a bit more money to do something at last, have chosen to come to Blackpool.”
Dave Daly, manager of The Castle pub in Blackpool’s Central Drive, and chair of the North West branch of licencees UNITE, said: “Despite the recession, we have fared quite well in Blackpool but we are finding this year that the money we are being told is in the system hasn’t filtered down yet.
“It’s not made it into the average working people’s pockets yet.
“Things are quite steady but we are still down compared to the time before the recession and people are still being cautious and budgeting.
“We find that the average person on the street is still drinking at home but as their disposable income starts to rise they will come out a bit more and spend money on drink and food in pubs.
“There is no doubt, though, we can feel the economic situation is getting better. I reckon we are 4-5 per cent up this year, so it is sprouting and we can feel people are getting more confident.”
Kristen Durose, of Red Star Wealth management in Blackpool, said: “I have noticed confidence returning to the business community on Fylde Coast, albeit at a steady pace.
“I see clients planning for growth now, recruiting staff and committing to plans such as property purchase or expansion. I am not sure I would say that it is back to pre-recession proportions but it is definitely building.”
In his position as chairman of Lancashire’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Booths supermarket chain boss Edwin Booth said: “Here in Lancashire, the LEP is working hard to create the right conditions for businesses to thrive and we have been seeing positive signs of economic recovery for some time now.
“As well as these latest GDP figures, just this week figures from UKTI showed that foreign investment in the county secured nearly 2,000 jobs in 2013/14, which shows that international businesses share our confidence.
“With major investment in the county through the Lancashire Growth Deal and the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal recently announced, and significant infrastructure projects such as the M6 to Heysham link road now under way, the future for the Lancashire economy looks very bright.”
Although the burgeoning service sector promises benefits for many of Blackpool’s traditional tourism businesses, nationally, expansion in the manufacturing sector slowed to just 0.2 per cent while construction shrank by 0.5 per cent, dragged down by a weak May for builders.
Steve Pye, chief executive of Blackpool-based Small Business TV, said there were widespread signs of economic improvement on the Fylde Coast. He said: “I speak to an awful lot of businesses and I can say that confidence is up.
“I think things are only going to get better now we are on the right side of the recession.
“People can now see the wood for the trees and so many are experiencing an improvement in business and more orders coming in.
“One man I spoke to said his business had turned round in the space of a fortnight and he is now taking on staff.”
Robin Lawson, managing director of Blackpool based building services engineering company, Ameon, believes the market is getting back to pre-recession levels but suggests there are still marked differences in terms of recovery between the micro economies of the North West.
He said: “Because we operate across the country our perspective of the recovery is driven by what we experience nationally or regionally.
“In the region, particularly in Manchester, where we’re involved in a number of high profile developments, there, high rise residential schemes, together with a mixture of office and hotel developments suggest a market getting back almost to the halcyon days of several years ago but not quite there yet.
“However, the recovery levels on the Fylde appear to be slower in our sector.
“This could be simply due to a time lag, with the area likely to pick up soon.
“But the difference between recovery here and 50 miles away is very significant.
Adrian Meakin of Blackpool-based The Ink Squid, which supplies ink cartridges and accessories for computers via the internet, said: “I would say we are definitely seeing big improvements. Summer is our quiet time – anything that takes people away from a computer is bad for us, so hot weather, Commonwealth Games and the holiday season are all bad for us.
“Nevertheless, we are still doing well – far better than this time last year.
“We also sell a lot business to business and almost everyone we talk to is reporting an increase in business. The same for the businesses I network with – happy times all round I would say.”
Paul Foster, Federation of Small Business (FSB) Development Manager for Lancashire said: “The national picture is welcoming and while the figures announced could yet be revised, the pattern of an improving UK economy is clear.
“What the data does tell us is that growth is being driven by the service sector, with manufacturers and construction output still lagging behind.
“To get these sectors really moving we need to ensure that we create the correct environment for investment locally, encouraging small businesses to grow and foreign investment into the area, too.
“Enabling our small businesses to export and reach into new markets would also be a boost to the local economy.”
Susanne Johnson, who runs Johnson’s haberdashery on Bond Street, Blackpool, said: “The picture I think is patchy in Blackpool. Money and effort has been spent on some areas, but there are too many business owners in Blackpool and the immediate area who are fighting to keep their head above water.
“Blackpool should be first in seaside resorts, working towards its own recovery, regaining the position it held 50 years ago, as a treasured venue for leisure for every level of British society.
“It is our time now. British people are still going abroad, which was the reason for Blackpool’s downfall 50 years ago, but now they have enough money to have more than the two weeks away.
“It’s time we all worked together. It’s time we looked at what are the resort’s priorities if it is to become as attractive a location as seaside resorts are in other countries.
“There’s no reason why our beautiful Blackpool can’t compete with foreign resorts, especially with the sunshiny summers we’ve started to enjoy in Northern England.”
More than 3.2m people in jobs in the North West
More than 7,400 people have got jobs through the Regional Growth Fund
North West private sector employment up 44,000
More than 12,500 jobs secured in the North West thanks to foreign investments over the past year, including 5,689 new jobs
The number of people taken out of tax in the North West since 2010 is 343,000.