JUNIOR Minister Jake Berry has promised that East Lancashire and its manufacturing and aerospace industries will be at ‘the absolute heart’ of the Northern Powerhouse for which he is responsible.

The Rossendale and Darwen Conservative MP, told a gathering of business leaders that rebalancing the geographical imbalance of the UK economy was a government priority.

He rejected claims the Northern Powerhouse was just a catchy title or all about Manchester and Liverpool.

Mr Berry was addressing the Blackburn with Darwen HIVE business leaders network.

He told his audience at Darwen Aldridge Community Academy: "The Northern Powerhouse is a catchy soundbite but it is more than that. I and the government are really serious about this.

“The economy of the North - from Crewe to Carlisle and North Lincolnshire to the Scottish Borders - is the eighth biggest in Europe. This is not just important to the north, it is important to the south as well.

“It is about growing the national cake not just slicing it a different way or moving jobs from the south to the north, although some think that would be a start.

“I can promise you Lancashire, East Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen will be at the absolute heart of the Northern Powerhouse agenda.

“Manufacturing industry, where our local strength lies, and skills will also be at its heart.”

Mr Berry highlighted the aerospace industry as a key driver for growing the county economy saying: “The government is committed to promoting industrial clusters.

“The aerospace industry in the North-West is not just a cluster of national importance but of global importance.”

Mr Berry said he would boost education and skills from primary schools through to degree-level apprenticeships to provide the workforce hi-tech and manufacturing firms in East Lancashire needed.

He said multi-million pound investments in transport which had seen the scrapping of Pacer trains and the improvement of the Clitheroe to Manchester rail line would continue.

Mr Berry said: “That includes the possibility of punching the M65 through into Yorkshire.”

Cllr Mohammed Khan, leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “It is really good to have Mr Berry in the borough explaining to us what the Northern Powerhouse is and means to us.”