A GROUP that is striving to strengthen the St Helens economy will aim to connect with more businesswomen in the borough during 2019.

St Helens’ Economy Board was formed by the local authority in 2017 to support the borough’s economic regeneration.

St Helens RFC chairman Eamonn McManus is chairman of the Economy Board, which is independent from the council.

Last August the board welcomed its first two female members, Hazel James, owner and managing director for Brendon International, and Marnie Millard, group chief executive for Nichols, the maker of Vimto.

This week, St Helens Council’s chief executive Mike Palin told St Helens Council’s overview and scrutiny commission that discussions are currently taking place to broaden membership of the board further.

Mr Palin said: “I will say here, there has been a challenge getting female business leaders in the borough who want to engage.

“First of all, I would say there is not as many as we would hope there to be, so we’ve got a challenge.

“But the board is having a conversation about broadening the board.”

One of the roles of the Economy Board is to oversee St Helens Ambassadors, an initiative that sees ‘ambassadors’ champion the borough in a variety of ways.

Mr Palin revealed that Ms Millard has agreed to speak at a number of events in 2019.

He said: “When we need to raise ambition, particularly amongst females in the borough, having someone like Marnie (Millard), who’s willing to come to events and talk about aspiration, is quite important.

“Some of the people we’ve got involved, it’s very helpful to have.”

More than 100 people signed up to be St Helens Ambassadors, ranging from businesses, schools and individuals. This has generated £40,000 through fees in the first year.

Mr Palin said the main driving force behind forming the Economy Board and the ambassador programme was to change perception around the borough.

He said work carried out in 2016 showed that externally, St Helens was perceived as an industrial town that was almost in “terminal decline”.

Mr Palin said: “One of the reasons we formed the Economy Board was to change that perception by having a number of key individuals who are prepared to talk positively in the borough and about the borough.

“It was also to get some insight into what was going on in the economy to inform what the council might do.”

The council’s chief executive credited the Economy Board for putting St Helens in the front-seat to bring a glass innovation centre to the borough as part of the Glass Futures project.

Mr Palin said: “When we held an ambassador event in Spring of this year in St Helens, they saw the support that was in St Helens for bringing a glass innovation centre here and ever since then, this has been the base that they’ve been looking into bring Glass Futures to.

“It does make a difference being able to get a room full of people saying we want to do something collaboratively.”

Mr Palin added: “In terms of perception, I feel it has started to change external perceptions of St Helens.

“We are being seen as a place where investment and growth occurs.”

Council leader Derek Long said the financial crisis of 2007-2008, coupled with the town’s industrial decline, hit the borough’s economy “immensely hard”.

The Labour leader said the borough has now turned a corner and is “moving in the right direction” but warned there were “enormous challenges ahead”.

Cllr Long said: “We’re not resting on our laurels. We will continue to drive pressure to increase the number of jobs in St Helens.

“We do this because it’s vital that we create work for people because it gives people the income in which they can achieve good living standards but also to develop their own lives and achieve the chances they want to.

“It has to be good jobs with good levels of remuneration. That’s what we plan to do and that’s what we are increasingly achieving.

“But this will still be an enormous challenge for us going forward and that’s why we are working across the board with whoever we can to drive the economy forward.”