Earlier this month I spent time visiting some of our amazing local businesses. I know how badly hit many of them were during the pandemic, so I felt it was crucial to keep a focus on how our council can support them recover and build back stronger.

The best way of doing this was to get out there and listen directly to those on the frontline. I wanted to make sure these visits were not just a nice chat over a cup of tea but a proper discussion about the benefits of a mature and active partnership between public service and business. Thankfully this was what happened.

Top of the agenda was how we maximise direct support. Sectors like high street retail, hospitality and events have all suffered more than most and their recovery has been far slower.

When our council has been given flexibility to support businesses in these sectors, we have geared that support towards them, with grants still going out to those affected now. But we still have surplus funds in restricted grant pots – under government criteria.

That is why, after these businesses visits, I have written to the Government calling on them to drop the restrictions and allow councils to pool these surpluses into a new business recovery fund.

This would put millions into our local economy that exists on our balance books but cannot legally be accessed by many businesses outside of the restrictions. I hope the Government listens to this sensible and costed solution. It will be a test of whether they are serious about “levelling up” in my view.

The second biggest issue raised was skills. Many businesses identified recruitment was a huge challenge now because there simply wasn’t the pool of talent coming through the system.

This should be a concern for us all, especially with our council’s ambitions for regeneration and nationally significant employment sites like the Northern Gateway, with the potential for 20,000 new jobs in high skilled and well-paying industries. We also know many young people lost out on vital education time during the lockdowns and so far, the Government have given only 10 per cent towards what their education recovery advisor told them was necessary.

A new skills strategy was a key element of our 10 Point Plan for Recovery and this feedback will help us to accelerate that planning. Key to this will be bringing together our schools, colleges and higher education institutions with business reps to map out where the gaps are and plan to fill them. Together, we can all ensure Bury’s economy is the best it can be.