TWO-thirds of 20 top East Lancashire companies plan recruitment drives this year in a huge boost to the economy, a Lancashire Telegraph survey has revealed.

The firms, which together employ more than 11,000 people in the area, will create up to 250 new jobs as the gloom begins to lift.

Our exclusive survey found that most large employers across a range of sectors are confident about this year after a dismal 2010.

Business leaders said the poll reflected the optimism spreading across East Lancashire’s private sector, despite looming public sector redundancies and spending cuts.

However, some bosses admitted staff levels would remain flat owing to trading conditions in their sectors.

The survey found that 13 major firms plan to recruit, while seven expect no new jobs in 2011.

Some manufacturers - like toilet roll company Accrol in Blackburn, ACDC Lighting Systems in Barrowford and Darwen-based WEC Group - will create scores of new jobs in a boost to the unemployed.

But East Lancashire’s major aerospace companies - BAE Systems in Samlesbury, Rolls-Royce in Barnoldswick and Burnley-based Aircelle - all expect quiet years, partly as a result of the Government’s austere Strategic Defence and Security Review last October.

Mike Damms, chief executive of the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The climate at the beginning of 2011 is much more benign than a year ago and that will help our companies.

“We don’t expect announcements of massive job creation but if 20 firms create 10 or 20 jobs each, suddenly we are talking big numbers.”

Among the firms surveyed by the Lancashire Telegraph, some were upbeat, although others were prepared for another tough year.

Stephen Greenhalgh, managing director of Bacup-based kitchen manufacturer JJO, said: “We are reasonably optimistic about our continued growth prospects this year and we do anticipate taking on more people during the course of the year.

“We have benefited from taking market share off rivals and this is a pattern which could continue.”

Bed firm Silentnight, which employs 600 in Barnoldswick, sounded a note of caution which other large manufacturers echoed.

Managing director James Conway said: “The business is looking forward to a challenging year in 2011.

“We're confident that the current level of employment is right for the business and don't expect to be expanding the workforce this year.”

The companies we surveyed

  • Silentnight (bed manufacturer, Barnoldswick, 600 staff): no plans to recruit
  • Euravia (aerospace, Kelbrook, 100): 15 per cent more staff
  • BAE Systems (aerospace, Samlesbury, 4,000): no plans to recruit
  • Rolls-Royce (aerospace, Barnoldswick, 1,000): no plans to recruit
  • Thwaites (brewery, Blackburn, 310): no plans to recruit
  • Crown Paints (Darwen, 500): plans to recruit apprentices
  • Promethean (interactive whiteboard manufacturer, Blackburn, 200): no plans to recruit
  • Daisy Group (telecoms, Nelson, 400): some new positions, plus 90 transferred from subsidiary in Wigan
  • Precision Polymer Engineering (rubber seals manufacturer, Blackburn, 215): some new positions with increased sales and production
  • Aircelle (aerospace, Burnley, 750): no plans to recruit
  • WEC Group (metal fabrication, Darwen, 300): 10 per cent more staff
  • Bglobal (smart meter maker, Darwen, 170): some new positions
  • Unison Engine Components (engineering and aerospace, Hapton, 320): new positions but priority to General Electric staff
  • JJO (kitchen manufacturer, Bacup, 350): some new positions
  • ACDC Lighting Systems (lighting designer/manufacturer, Barrowford, 100): 20 new positions
  • Herbert Parkinson (textiles, Darwen, 250): about 12 new jobs
  • Senator (office furniture, Altham/Huncoat/Blackburn, 800): no new positions
  • Johnson Matthey (chemicals, Clitheroe, 300): some new positions
  • Accrol (toilet roll manufacturer, Blackburn, 110): 35 new positions
  • Homeloan Management (financial services outsourcing, Padiham, 380): new jobs with forays into new markets