Region can be at heart of a national recovery

In his latest column for the Yorkshire Post, Roger Marsh, Chair of the LEP, looks at the role West Yorkshire can play in the UK’s recovery from COVID-19.

2 September 2020

The five Leaders of West Yorkshire’s councils and I recently wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak to set out an ambitious, yet practical, vision for our region’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

The plan we presented pinpoints how and why West Yorkshire can provide an economic blueprint for national recovery, placing this region firmly at the heart of the UK’s vision to come back stronger from COVID-19.

It has struck a chord across the region, making front-page news and attracting support, and we are making a plea to the Government to back that plan with powers and funding.  

The impact of COVID-19 on West Yorkshire has been severe, and without taking bold measures for the future, the cost of inaction will weigh heavy on our people and economy.

Analysis conducted for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority shows that under a worst-case scenario, the pandemic could lead to 58,000 job losses in the next year, see our unemployment rate rising to 14%, and wipe £12 billion off the value of our economy.  

This would mean the West Yorkshire economy, which has shown an enviable track record in creating jobs, growth and spreading prosperity over the past decade, would be nearly a quarter smaller - taking it back to the size it was before the year 2000.

But it is clear to us all as leaders: this can’t be allowed to happen. The Combined Authority, LEP and our partners across the region have worked hard to support businesses through the peak of the pandemic with financial support, information and tailored, expert advice. In effect, we have mounted a rescue operation to save and safeguard as much of the region’s economy as we can.  

Now our attention is turning to the next phases of the recovery, as we are forced to reimagine and reinvent to be in the right shape for the changing world, and build long-term economic resilience so we can better weather any future storms.  

In our submission to Government, we set out a targeted approach to four distinctive investment propositions, totalling £750 million that don’t only address the specific needs of the West Yorkshire economy and its people, but fuel and supercharge the region’s biggest areas of potential to make major contribution to the national recovery.   

They build on our region’s world-leading position in health innovation, maximise our capabilities as the UK’s fastest-growing centre for digital, have the potential to create up to 70,000 jobs and opportunities by becoming a net zero carbon economy by 2038, and nurture our talent to reap the benefits of unleashing an entrepreneurial revolution.  

These propositions have been developed by the West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Board, which has been convened by the Combined Authority to bring together civic, business, trade union, health and third sector leaders.   

The £750 million investment package outlined in the letter to the Chancellor is part of a £1.4 billion long term plan of action to offer immediate support to the West Yorkshire economy, develop potential with skills and retraining, as well as support for growth industries and future opportunities, and developing our long-term economic resilience.  

It is focused on supporting jobs for people in resilient businesses, on helping people get the skills they need to get jobs, and on the infrastructure people need to access opportunities. This wider work contributes to a plan to increase our region’s productivity in line with the UK average - which if done well will add £8.5 billion to the UK economy.

I believe strongly that Leeds City Region is uniquely qualified to progress policy objectives that will benefit the entire national economy, and as the UK’s trading relationships with the rest of the world change, it is vital that we recognise the strengths of each and every region and the role they can play.

To this end, it is with great pride that I have been appointed to a key panel, alongside business leaders, economists and other experts, advising the government as it seeks to establish new free trade agreements around the world.

The investment trade advisory group, one of 11 on key sectors for the UK economy, set up by the Department for International Trade, is focused on maintaining the UK's attractiveness for inward investment from overseas.

Already, through the devolution deal signed in March, the Government has shown that it understands the value of investing in West Yorkshire and recognised our strong track record of delivery and using the money under our control for good.

As a region, we have proven time and time again what we can do when given the opportunity, making the most of every penny of public spending to generate growth for our region’s economy.  

Through the £1 billion plus Leeds City Region Growth Deal, we have already demonstrated our successful track record in investing in the right infrastructure needed to create the jobs, housing and communities of the future. Every £1 of public money spent through it has generated £4 of private investment and £10 in added value in the economy.  

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has secured £52.6 million from Government funding to accelerate 15 ‘shovel-ready’ projects in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as part of the £900 million national Getting Building Fund.  

These range from creating new homes, offices, industrial, commercial and community spaces, to helping businesses recover and adapt following lockdown and invest in faster broadband to accelerate online growth.  

We’re helping to reduce congestion and improve air quality with more park and ride spaces and road improvements, as well as improving canal paths with better cycling and walking infrastructure. We are also regenerating town and city centres and improving energy efficiency in homes.  

Together these schemes will create almost 2,300 new jobs and safeguard a further 500 jobs.

Through our locally-led recovery plan we know we have the blueprint to follow, the collective will, and the strong partnerships to deliver for the region and the country. We ask now that Government positively responds to our compelling offer and supports us to build a stronger, greener and more inclusive economy.  

Roger Marsh OBE DL, chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and the NP11 group of Northern local enterprise partnerships. This column originally appeared in the Yorkshire Post.