LEP Chair reflects on Brexit

ROGER MARSH OBE

In the wake of the referendum vote to leave the EU, undoubtedly we will enter a period of uncertainty in our economy. Whilst it is difficult to say at this stage what the long term effects will be, we must reflect on the fact that we have a high proportion of exporters who trade exclusively with Europe and a significant proportion of investment into the region – both public and private – comes from the EU.

Whilst this is likely to be an unsettling period I am confident the strength in our regional economy and the grit and determination of our businesses means we will confront the challenges as they become more apparent and exploit the opportunities this presents.

We do anticipate an impact on public expenditure, the scale of which will be dependent on how the government now choses to respond to the country’s decision to leave. We trust that the UK government will make every effort to ensure that regions, like ours, that receive significant levels of European funding will not lose vital investment for jobs, skills, business growth and regeneration and continue to support the ambition of the Northern Powerhouse.

Many of the readers of the Yorkshire Post will have heard me say before – it’s not about Brexit, it’s about Fix It. Fixing the social, economic and environmental issues that are currently holding us back from realising our full economic potential. For us to succeed, it is more important than ever for us to reinstate our devolution asks and redouble our efforts to secure devolution for the Leeds City Region that ensures we have the tools to build the best possible future for our City Region.

Ahead of the Budget in March, I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, alongside 60 leading business voices from the region, urging the government to complete a key missing piece in its Northern Powerhouse project by ensuring the Leeds City Region secured the devolved powers to create a prosperous future. We have remained patient but persistent in keeping our devolution discussions on the table as the only viable option covering a functional economic area. This covers the full Leeds City Region geography including all of West Yorkshire plus Harrogate, Craven, Selby and York with 95% of people who live in the area, working here as well.

I strongly believe that if the government want their Northern Powerhouse initiative to be a success and rebalance the north, we need to be careful not to polarise East to West as seems to be happening at present and instead play to the strengths and local knowledge in each region. Now we have clarity that our country’s future is outside of the EU, the region’s business and political figures must bang on the door of government and stress our concerns over the absence of meaningful devolution for such a significant economic area with a core city at its heart.

But in large part, we can’t rely on government funding alone. Our thriving businesses also have a vital role to play.

Building on the funding we have already secured through previous rounds of Growth Deals and devolution deals, we must build on the powerful partnerships with the private sector to secure investment, ensure innovative new schemes come to fruition and more and better jobs are created for our residents.

We set out this ambition in our recently launched revised Strategic Economic Plan published last month. Our revised plan sets out the vision for the next 20 years to grow the economy, deliver an extra 36,000 jobs and £3.7 billion of economic output by 2036 and ultimately help us to become a positive, above average contributor to the nation’s purse. We know we will only successfully do this if the public and private sectors unite behind a powerful vision and shared interest in growing the economy through good growth.

There is no doubt that there is strong political and business appetite to secure devolved powers from government, and fast. We don’t want to be stuck with the status quo whilst other northern cities and city regions race ahead with their growth ambitions. Instead we want to unleash our dynamism, exploit the opportunities ahead and deliver good growth which leads to good lives for all who live and work in Leeds City Region.

This article appears on Business page 12 of the Yorkshire Post today 28.062016.