Row erupts over ‘worst’ enterprise zone

Business leaders have voiced concerns over the lack of progress made by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, which was set up to create new jobs.
Business leaders have voiced concerns over the lack of progress made by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, which was set up to create new jobs.
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Business leaders say they are concerned with the lack of progress over a flagship job creation project.

They have written to demand answers after Lancashire Enterprise Zone – a project centred around the BAE Systems sites at Warton and Samlesbury – was described as the worst in the country by Local Growth Minister Penny Mordaunt.

Ms Mordaunt had written a letter last month to the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership saying the Government was “concerned” about the lack of progress in Lancashire.

She is reported to have complained that it was the only zone not to have attracted any new businesses or to have created any new jobs.

The North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said members are worried about the reports and also claims a number of Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Directors were unaware of these concerns.

Babs Murphy, Chief Executive of North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The fact 
Government ministers have now raised very serious concerns regarding the Enterprise Zone is damming.

“What’s equally serious is that apparently a number of LEP Directors were unaware of these concerns.

“As well as raising important issues of governance what sort of message does it send out to potential investors?

“As well as a lack of progress there has been a clear failure of communication at the highest levels of the LEP and Lancashire County Council and it doesn’t bode well for the EZ or the LEP going forward.”

She said the Chamber, as the biggest in Lancashire, was not a member of the LEP board, it had not been able to play an active part in helping the LEP.

She added: “Nevertheless, we still want to play a full part in helping the LEP and the EZ achieve their objectives to improve the economic prosperity of Lancashire.

“Going forward, at the very least, the inner workings of the LEP have to be made more transparent, otherwise the business community will rapidly start to lose all faith in what the LEP is trying to achieve.”

However, LEP chairman Edwin Booth said: “The ministers’ letter included some eye-catching remarks but does not reflect the positive relationship the LEP has with the Government or the LEP’s excellent track record in delivering a range of programmes across Lancashire.

“We have taken the letter seriously and I’ve been able to assure the Government that the enterprise zone is on track to deliver the first of 6,000 new jobs in 2015, as indicated at the outset of the programme.”

“I’m looking forward to welcoming Penny Mordaunt for a visit to Lancashire soon and I’ve no doubt she will go away impressed with what is being achieved here.

“The Lancashire Enterprise Partnership is led by the private sector and has an excellent track record of bringing investment to the county and supporting job creation.

“We engage with the local business community in a variety of ways and I am open to suggestions as to how to improve the way we do that.”

Jennifer Mein, leader of LCC, said: “As a board member of the LEP I certainly support the view that the ministers’ letter failed to reflect the considerable work going on to develop the enterprise zone or the fact that the goals around job creation are on track.

“I acknowledge the development of the enterprise zone has proved more difficult than may have been anticipated when it was initiated three years ago but the LEP must make sure the enterprise zone delivers and I’m confident it will.”

“It has achieved a tremendous amount in a short space of time, from supporting 2,000 businesses through Boost Business Lancashire to investing £20m in Growing Places funding, which has triggered a further £100m in public and private investment, and the Growth Deal and City Deal schemes which are on a tremendous scale.