BES Utilities managing director and co-founder Andy Pilley said it was vital the Government’s much-heralded ‘Northern Powerhouse’ does not simply focus on major cities.
Mr Pilley made the call during the visit to the North West by Chinese President Xi who was in the region to mark the announcement of a new air route between China and Manchester as well as a series of investment deals.
Earlier this year, he was one of a number of business entrepreneurs invited to attend a Downing Street briefing where Chancellor George Osborne laid out his Northern Powerhouse vision which includes attracting investment and improving connectivity between key business areas in the North.
While welcoming Chinese investment in the North West, Mr Pilley, whose Fleetwood-based BES Group employs more than 450 people, making the commercial gas and electricity supplier one of the largest private sector employers on Lancashire’s Fylde coast, said it was vital the focus was not simply on major cities.
Mr Pilley stressed more needs to be done to support other areas outside Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, particularly in improving the poor transport links which stifle business growth and job creation.
He said Fleetwood, where BES is proud to have its headquarters, lost its rail link in 1970 and is like many of the North’s historic coastal towns in that it is in desperate need of inward investment.
Mr Pilley said: “My interpretation of the Northern Powerhouse is that it is a commitment from the Government, almost a recognition, that there is a North/South divide and investment is required.
“There has been a lot of talk of greater transport links and trying to create a more level playing field. I hope that is what will occur.
“What a town like Fleetwood desperately needs is investment in transport infrastructure. We have a woeful transport system, we have a very poor road system, in and out of the town, we have no railway station.”
Hainan Airlines will announce a new route between Manchester and China – a deal which could provide a £50m boost to the Manchester economy and open up links from China to northern England.
Asked what difference a Chinese-funded Northern Powerhouse would make for town’s like Fleetwood, he replied: “The Government is looking to secure trade and investment from one of the most prosperous economies in the world and I think it makes a lot of sense.
“Of course, I would like to be part of it but I do think Far East investment is more likely to go to the cities.
“That isn’t to say the Government doesn’t have funds and plans to invest in the remainder of the North of the country.”