BURY is at the centre of an ambitious project to tackle the UK’s productivity crisis, it has been revealed this week.

Banking giants Barclays will join forces with the council, as well as schools and business groups across the town in a bid to boost economic growth, under the five-year scheme which was officially launched by the bank’s CEO Ashok Vaswani at Castlebrook High School on Thursday.

The Building Thriving Local Economies initiative aims to ensure towns such as Bury become stronger contributors to the national economy, and will explore a range of policy ideas, including encouraging more young people to choose apprenticeships rather than university, how banks support small businesses, and devolution of power away from Westminster.

The programme will take place in four pilot areas across the country, each with different economic characteristics. And Barclays chose Bury as the location for the first roll out as they believe it to be representative of an ‘average’ local economy. It is hoped that the town will prove to be a bellwether for how people are feeling in similar areas across the UK.

The bank will undertake research to get a better understanding of the strengths and challenges of the borough’s economy.

Those findings will then be shared with the council, school leaders, business groups and others to build an action plan to help build a more thriving economy.

As a first step, Barclays will attempt to build confidence and raise aspirations of school children across the borough by providing a version of the banks’ LifeSkills programme. As part of the programme, local employers will visit schools to deliver workshops and offer tips and advice to pupils.

Launching the programme at Castlebrook High School on Thursday, Mr Vaswani, said: “At a time of economic uncertainty, we need to ensure that every part of the UK can thrive in order that our whole country can prosper.

"We see pockets of high growth in our major cities but more needs to be done to support towns like Bury to become stronger engines of local and national prosperity.

“There is no single lever that national governments or central banks can pull to drive economic growth. I truly believe that our future economic success will be driven by people in places like Bury. We need to look at how we build a thriving economy ‘from the local up’ not from the national down.

“This initiative is about working with authorities and working out what drives the economy of a place, what we can do to build skills and confidence, and how we help local businesses grow.”

Barclays hope to take the findings from Bury and apply them elsewhere in the country in a bid to boost other local economies.

“The economy here is doing well. Not exceptionally well, but it’s not doing badly,” said Mr Vaswani.

“We have been in Bury for a long time, since 1798. It also helps to have the council and people who are interested in making a difference, so we can work with them and see what works here, and try to take that elsewhere.

“This is my second visit to Bury. The first visit in June was all about listening and finding out what are the concerns and issues the place has. Today is about some listening, some putting across potential options, and deciding together what it takes to really move the needle in Bury.

“It has got to be all over the UK, though. This cannot be left only to the government. This is a culmination of the private sector and the public sector, as well as the third sector to come together to make the UK a thriving economy. To create, jobs, enterprise and skills, that’s how we will prosper, and that is why this is such an important initiative.

“We will take the learnings from this and see how we should roll it out in other places across the UK.

"We want to see the different nuances that pop up as well as the common factors that play through, so that we can find a framework for scaling this out across the country."

Castlebrook, which is a part of the Shaw Education Trust, is the first school within the borough to sign up for the programme, with others expected to follow suit in the coming months.

Thursday's launch event coincided with the first of the LifeSkills programme workshops being delivered to pupils at the school.

Speaking at the launch, Rob Keeling, CEO of Bury-based business AirPure, said: "We are fortunate that Barclays has chosen Bury to launch this scheme.

"It is important that companies like Barclays are opening themselves up and pooling together their expertise and resources with local businesses and schools to build up a network for them to feed into.

"More big companies should try to work with local communities to pass on their expertise."

Sue Armstrong, principal at Castlebrook High School, added: "We are delighted to be involved in this. It is a real opportunity and is good for the pupils to make these links between secondary school and post-16 career pathways."

The project has also been hailed by local leaders.

Bury Council leader Rishi Shori said: “Bury is open for business, and ensuring that our economy flourishes is among the most important priorities for this council.

“Bury has many strengths, not least as an attractive place to live. We need to build on this, working with partners in education, training and commerce to make our borough a home to highly skilled, well paid work and innovative, thriving businesses.”

Bury North MP James Frith added: “We have everything we need right here in Bury to make our town the best it can be. 

"I'm delighted that Barclays recognises the important contribution of towns like Bury to the future of our country's success and I welcome their commitment to work holistically with businesses, schools and the local authority in a sustained way to help our economy thrive.

“The combination of gathering evidence to identify challenges and opportunities, work with our schools to improve skills and confidence and support for the small businesses which are the lifeblood of our town is really positive and I'm excited to work with them over the next few years to boost our local economy and deliver greater prosperity to the people of our town.”