CHRIS Allen’s average daily journey between home and work takes him from Bolton to Blackburn and back.

It’s a manageable distance and certainly not a troublesome commute. Not being wholly immersed in East Lancashire, however, perhaps gives him a special perspective on what he sees as one of the bigger issues Blackburn and Darwen together face as a borough.

Mr Allen, the group managing director of Acme Facilities Group, which has two bases in Blackburn and a head office in London, is concerned about a drain of labour and talent to Manchester and Liverpool.

He’s also troubled by what he describes as the general skills shortage in the labour market, a topic that certainly exercises many influential minds across all sectors in the borough, the region and indeed across the country.

That’s where the Hive network comes in, and Mr Allen is a committed supporter. He and the Acme business, which does refurbishment and new-build fit-outs, linked up with the network only about two years ago, but he is determined that Acme should play a part.

Acme is now a national specialist in food-service equipment, kitchen design, fabrication, air conditioning, heating and ventilation services after acquiring DPL Services, Severn Catering Services and The Canopy Company.

Mr Allen, who has been with Acme for about six years, with about four years as finance director before taking on his current position, said: “There has been investment in the area, but going forward it’s not looking as rosy as it did in the past.

“There’s now a lack of funding and investment and that’s a concern, because we want to see a buoyant economy on our doorstep.”

Mr Allen doesn’t blame those who look to the region’s major cities for employment and opportunities, but he is sure of the task the borough faces.

“We need to make sure they see the right opportunity on their doorstep."

Acme is one of Blackburn’s bigger employers. It has about 130 staff at its sites on the Whitebirk and Walker Park industrial estates, and 230 in all. It launched as a refrigeration company in Blackburn back in 1964.

It’s certainly a positive story, and Mr Allen is keen to see more set-ups emulate that success. That’s why he and Acme were quick to link up with the Hive when the network first came to his attention.

He said: “We first became aware of the Hive a couple of years ago and we started attending some of the breakfast networking events.

“We became more aware of what the Hive does and how it interacts with the business community and the council, and so on.

“I think it’s important that it gives us a link into local business, business owners and senior directors. It’s good to have engagement with the council to understand what its investment, regeneration and growth plans are.

“As a business based in Blackburn for more than 50 years, the local market is important to us.”

Mr Allen, along with many other individuals, is quick to point out that he believes that the people involved are a big strength of the Hive network.

He said: “They have got some business leaders from some very large organisations, some of which are internationally focused.

“It’s the people they have managed to get involved. There is lots of knowledge and expertise in there. The connection with the council is also good.”

Mr Allen enjoys attending the networking meetings and would like to see more put on.

He said: “I’d like to see more of a kind of forum for people to share ideas and be a support to each other. I often think that when we face challenges, sometimes for the first time, it could well be that there is a business on the doorstep that has gone through that to give support and guide you through it.”

Mr Allen is of course conscious of the wider economic picture beyond the borough and the North West: “The whole Brexit picture is a concern. There’s a lot of uncertainty and investments are being pulled.”

As for the general direction of travel for Britain as a nation in business terms, he has doubts there too, citing “the increasing deficit” and significant economic “pressures” before adding: “I’m not certain we are going in the right direction. There is plenty to be concerned about.”

Without overestimating the role of the Hive, he believes nonetheless that the network can do its bit in promoting economic stability and success in the borough.

He said: “I have seen it grow in terms of number and in terms of importance. Now we are much more aware of it because I see the people being more active.”