Cumbria Crack
Letters to Editor

Plea to merge Cumbria and Lancashire LEPs

Cllr Graham Vincent

The Government is currently calling for a fundamental review of Local Enterprise Partnerships as they move forward with the Industry Strategy for the UK, and the associated Local Industrial Strategies that will support these initiatives. Where Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are deemed too small, and do not reflect true Functioning Economic Areas, then the government is calling for mergers on a bigger footprint.

This is an opportunity for Cumbria to strengthen its reputation and economic impact.

Cumbria currently comprises a number of functioning economic areas some of which have no tangible evidential relationship with each other.

Energy Coast, Borderlands, Lake District, Morecambe Bay, there is little synergistic dynamism to narrate an effective Cumbria story.

The Cumbria LEP has yet to recognise the powerful and developing Morecambe Bay economy.

It appears that our LEP struggles to contemplate crossing administrative boundaries. Already statements have been made that there will be no LEP mergers for Cumbria, even before all the evidence has been considered. This closed border view is damaging to Cumbria’s economy.

What the Government makes clear is that investment will follow where partner LEPs can demonstrate strong regional economic functionality.

There is therefore a very strong case for Cumbria and Lancashire LEPs to combine thus forming a powerful and effective Local Enterprise Partnership, something that can sit equally at the table with Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region.

The functionality of such a partnership is compelling. Advanced Manufacturing in the Defence Industry has such a strong base in South Cumbria, and in Central Lancashire.

The Nuclear Industry with the only licenced Nuclear Port, and a range of nuclear services from fuel preparation, to power generation to re processing works will be represented as combined industry.

Cumbria and Lancashire have significant specialised, modern, market leading manufacturing companies that all require the infrastructure to get to market, and to attract the top talent that will keep them at the forefront in a global marketplace.

The University of Lancaster, University of Central Lancashire, The University of Cumbria and the Colleges of further Education are already working together and support businesses across Cumbria and Lancashire. You cannot leave out the outstanding quality of life that exists in many parts of our region.

A 21st century economy demands that future skills provision is assured.  The future requires the understanding of business development, and the specialisms that development requires.  This needs big picture understanding.  Many universities already have those links not only to ambitious U.K. companies but also to the fast growing markets across the world. Can small LEPs have such an understanding? The evidence to date would suggest that the future workforce and skills needed for the future Cumbrian economy is not forthcoming, certainly not in the short and medium term. Doing the same things again will only result in the same outcome. It is time for a grown up and mature conversation that focusses less on structure, and more on outcomes, those outcomes being a healthy, safe, sustainable economy for all our communities.

Cumbria and Lancashire need to be serious members of the Northern Power House, and will not achieve that as bit players, with the internal strife we seem to emit best of all. The Northern Power House wants powerful and influential partners that are clear about their own direction. The minimum we should ask for is that the Morecambe Bay Functioning Economic Area is reflected in any final proposals, and that cannot be one that continues to segregate and ignore its status as a major player in the North’s current and future economy.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for investment that will not be judged as support for parochial development but as support for the Great Northern Economic Plan.

The quality of life for future generations in our area could very well depend on this action.

Cllr Graham Vincent

Economy Portfolio Holder

South Lakeland District Council

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