BUSINESSES in St Helens will not be able to “wade through the storm” without a proper economic recovery plan, council chiefs have warned.

St Helens is projected to have the second largest economic slowdown out of all the Liverpool City Region local authorities, with a sharp decline in output.

This will put thousands of jobs at risk, equating to more than 25 per cent of all jobs in St Helens.

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On Tuesday, Boris Johnson promised an “infrastructure revolution” as he unveiled a £5 billion recovery plan aimed at kickstarting a stuttering UK economy hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Rob Huntington, St Helens Borough Council’s assistant chief executive, told the authority’s overview and scrutiny commission on Monday that the council will need to submit its own economic recovery plan to government.

He said the council needs to initially align itself to the combined authority’s recovery plan, which is expected to be published within the coming days, in order to access LCR funding.

Mr Huntington said the council’s own plan will be “people-focused”, due to the number of redundancies that have been predicted.

“The key point for us to consider is, we are not coming from a position of strength, economically in St Helens,” he said.

“We’ve probably got a longer journey to follow, or to take in relation to our economic recovery because we already had significant prosperity and productivity (gaps).

“And in comparison to national averages but also regional averages we didn’t necessarily recover from the [last] recession as much as others had.

“And that gives us a little bit of a lower base to start from.”

Liverpool City Council submitted a £1.4 billion five-year recovery plan to government last week and was the first Merseyside authority to do so.

St Helens Star: St Helens Town HallSt Helens Town Hall

The expectation is that other councils in the city region follow suit and submit a plan to government with money set against it.

St Helens has a high concentration of sectors that are projected to decline, such as education, retail, construction, and manufacturing.

The health and social care is the only sector projected to grow in the short term.

However, St Helens has the lowest concentration of health and social care output out of the six Liverpool City Region local authorities.

“The mix of sectors we have, which is sort of a manufacturing and other sort of supply-chain led sectors basically, have had more of an impact,” Mr Huntington said.

“And also health and social care sector that is most likely to grow, we haven’t got enough of.

“But also, our business density isn’t enough for us to sort of wade ourselves through this storm.

“So we’ve got specific groupings of businesses that are likely to shrink. We haven’t got enough that are likely to grow, but the density of our business isn’t enough for us to have a level of growth that will help us.

“So there’s a little bit of a boiling pot of issues that will come to the surface.”

Labour’s John Wiseman, ward councillor for Bold, said the socio-economic factors within St Helens in the wake of the pandemic are going to be “devastating”.

And he said the sectors identified by the council, particularly the hospitality sector, are going to be “massively impacted”.

Since the start of the pandemic, the council has paid out government grants of more than £25 million to businesses.

Despite this, the council’s assistant chief executive said demand is already outstripping supply.

St Helens Star: Rob Huntington, St Helens Borough Council’s assistant chief executiveRob Huntington, St Helens Borough Council’s assistant chief executive

Mr Huntington said the council is also facing pressure from independent pubs and restaurants that have a rateable value above £51,000, which makes them ineligible for business rates relief.

He said this week, council officers, working with police and other regulatory officers, have been working businesses in preparation for the planned reopening on July 4.

One issue the council need to develop a better understanding off, he said, is those staff who have been furloughed, but are effective redundant, with businesses planning to let them go once the scheme ends.

“We need to understand a bit more because potentially, people that are furloughed could already be redundant,” Mr Huntington said.

“And I think there’s a real potential of some of that happening.

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“Across other neighbouring authorities, especially in Merseyside, we are seeing announcements of redundancies or businesses or organisations actually closing and we’ve yet to see that effect in St Helens yet, whether there will be or not, we need to be clear about.

“But we are working very closely with the Chamber and developing more engagement with partnerships to start working collectively together to understand what the bigger picture might be.

“I’m afraid we’re doing as much as we can in that space but there are still quite a lot of unknowns around what might be happening across the sectors in the borough.”