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Wednesday, 01 October 2014

Manufacturing is leading the way

AT the end of April the UK went into double dip recession.

While this might be a technical term, it is clear that the UK economy has been flat for some time and is struggling to see signs of growth.

Any single job loss is a personal tragedy for the individual and we always need to be aware of that.

But it does seem, so far in 2012, that we are seeing many sectors where the Cumbrian economy is showing rigour and stability.

It’s a cautionary tale.

We want to celebrate some of the successes that there have undoubtedly been for many businesses within Cumbria.

But at the same time there is a vulnerability in certain sectors.

Retail is still struggling and the high streets within the towns of our County have a different profile to that of just a few years ago. Some of the national companies which have taken stock have restructured which has led to job losses and distress. But some of the local owner-managed businesses have been quite stable.

The public sector continues to haemorrhage jobs which has led to a lot of distress. The only hope in the short term for those directly affected is for them to find jobs in the private sector. This is where the resilience is coming to the fore.

Everyone working on government contracts has a degree of vulnerability.

Workers at the munitions depot at Longtown are among them. There is a strong lobby from Cumbria County Council and MPs to reverse the decision on the proposed closure of the depot, or at least extend the life of the operation.

The strength of Cumbria is in its manufacturing base.

The manufacturing sector is a genuine wealth creator.

We have a high percentage of jobs in the manufacturing sector, the pound is relatively strong, and exports are holding up. We should take the lead from what is being said about how investable the County is following the comments that the Prime Minister made on his recent visit to GSK in Ulverston announcing such a welcome investment to South Cumbria.

It is a signal of confidence in the area. We should start to believe in our own PR.

Submarine building in Barrow with the Astute and successor programme and the opportunities that brings for the supply chain is another success story, and the management and the workforce at the shipyard are to be congratulated on the crucial work that they are doing in support of the defence sector in Britain.

There’s a continuing good story regarding nuclear new-build and the fuel cycle in West Cumbria.

Looking to the future on the back of some of the big investment announcements are major infrastructure improvements.

The Carlisle Northern Development Route (CNDR) has opened up opportunities in the north and west of Cumbria.

It has also opened up Kingmoor Park, reinforcing its pre-eminence as the major strategic investment site in the north of the County.

Tourism is a very important sector in Cumbria.

It is facing a challenging year, with the relatively strong pound, it being an Olympic Year when a lot of tourism spend will be leaking towards the Greater London area at the height of the summer season, and with much of Cumbria’s tourist offer being weather dependent, we rely on the vagaries of our weather system.

There are some excellent events to look forward to this year including the Whitehaven Festival which continues to go from strength to strength and allying itself to the celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

With all the good work being done on infrastructure, including the CNDR and also the Port of Workington, one area where we need to rally round as a county is to lobby for increased capacity of our broadband.

The procurement process for superfast broadband will be announced in June by the county council.

But there are other pockets of Cumbria, such as Carlisle, Penrith and Barrow, where superfast broadband has been made available to domestic customers.

High tech business needs ultrafast broadband and that is an aspiration that we are trying to support.

The ability to be able to deliver that level of broadband would mean Cumbria was able to compete in a global environment and that would be a step change from where we are now.

We have done well taking Cumbria to the national level, but that international level is the next step. Trading on a global level is an aspiration worth pursuing and we need the investment from broadband improvements to help us get there.It is 12 months ago that the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) were funded and Cumbria was in the first tranche.

Cumbria’s LEP was happily contiguous with its border area.

And covering the whole of the county the LEP has given the opportunity for Cumbria to speak with one voice to government for local infrastructure projects.

This has manifested itself with some really good projects.

There are three major projects under the Regional Growth Fund Round 2 – Pirelli, Gilbert, Gilkes and Gordon Ltd, and the programme bid for Britain’s Energy Coast, Cumbria. It’s a good start, and there is a determination to put powerful and sustainable projects up for appraisal in future rounds.

The Cumbria LEP is a genuine public/private partnership demonstrating the benefit of the single voice approach.

It has had other successes such as the Rural Growth Network.

And there will be more such as the Cumbria Infrastructure Fund.

On the back of the announcements we have had about jobs and investment, the Highways Agency are looking to work with the Cumbria LEP to bring about infrastructure improvements.

The LEP celebrates its first year with a lot to shout about.

Without any extra resources, it has worked utilising the resources available at Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and an expanding role for specialists working across Directorates at Cumbria County Council on behalf of the local government partners.

It clearly demonstrates what can be achieved when the public and private sector come together in Cumbria for the greater benefit of the whole county, and it has projected a necessary and coherent message to central Government that Cumbria is open for business and more than ready to play its part in generating jobs and investment for the community it serves.

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