The COVID-19 outbreak is the greatest challenge our region, the UK and the world has seen during many of our lifetimes. Tens of thousands of people have sadly lost their lives. In Leeds City Region, we estimate that up to a quarter of businesses have temporarily shut their doors, with as many as 300,000 people being furloughed.
As the Government announces its roadmap to ease the lockdown, we are seeing some signs that business activity is resuming. We are doing what we can as a LEP and Combined Authority to help support the region’s economy, putting in place a package of measures to help protect as many of the affected jobs and businesses as possible.
We have helped get cash to businesses through our capital grants scheme and supported our partner councils, which have already channeled £430 million to more than 37,000 businesses in the region.
Many businesses are looking for help to navigate the current situation, with cashflow and access to finance continuing to be their biggest concerns. Since the end of March, the LEP’s Business Support Service has dealt with well over 3,000 enquiries, with a team of 21 people working directly with around 1,500 businesses.
The LEP has put in place webinars to provide vital information, as well as piloting a mentoring service to link private sector volunteers with small firms to offer expert coaching on issues affecting them, including people, suppliers and customers, finance and premises.
The Combined Authority has convened the West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Board to develop robust plans for economic recovery and help build an inclusive and sustainable economy for the future.
Meeting remotely via video conference, it brings together civic and business leaders from across the region, including the five West Yorkshire council leaders, all of the region’s chambers of commerce, the CBI, Federation of Small Businesses, TUC, Bank of England, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
As a region, we have proven time and time again what we can do when given the opportunity. Since 2015, the £1 billion Growth Deal that the LEP secured has helped thousands of businesses to grow and create jobs. Now we have the chance to go much further, with the West Yorkshire devolution deal.
Devolution will bring long-term funding worth more than £1.8 billion over the next 30 years into local control, and powers to take more key decisions for the region locally along with the creation of a directly-elected mayor for West Yorkshire from May 2021.
A consultation has been launched to give everyone the opportunity to have their say on the devolution deal and I hope businesses will respond in large numbers.
The devolution consultation is now open until 19 July 2020. You can find more information about the deal and consultation below.
This crisis, and the promise of devolution, is a moment to consider carefully the future of the region’s economy, so we can emerge stronger and build the kind of future to which the people of our region aspire.
Working with our colleagues in the private sector, we must put in place the support to develop resilient and thriving businesses, boosted by innovation, high skills and entrepreneurialism; develop an inclusive economy that creates good quality jobs and provides people with a decent standard of living; and promotes environmental sustainability in all parts of the region.
Examples across the region and the country show that we are strongest and at our best when we work together, when we cooperate and when we collaborate – and the devolution deal for West Yorkshire announced in March will help us do this even more effectively.
We need to rescue and recover our economy, regaining not just what we have lost, but making it more resilient for the future. The LEP will do everything it can to ensure that the right support can be put in place to help our region’s businesses through this difficult time so we can build an even more successful, sustainable and inclusive economy at the end of it, for the benefit of everyone.
To find more information and support for businesses in Leeds City Region concerned or affected by the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19), visit www.the-lep.com/covid19.
Roger Marsh OBE DL, chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and NP11 group of Northern LEPs