A look back at 2015: our highlights

LEP Board members look back at 2015 and reflect on their personal highlights from the last twelve months.

Roger Marsh OBE, LEP Chair:

For me, the biggest achievement this year has been the shift from strategy to delivery - we are now delivering projects and programmes that are having a real impact on businesses and our economy.

SMEs make up 99% of all the companies in our region and if those businesses don’t grow neither will our economy. We know that access to funding is a big barrier to growth for small businesses so I was delighted to kick off the year in January with the announcement that we’d supported 350 businesses to grow through our business grant programme, followed closely by the launch of our skills service in February. In July, we extended our business support offer even further by launching our growth service, bringing together support from the LEP or our partners and helping to connect SMEs with the right support to help them realise their growth ambitions.

What really struck me about the launch of this service was how well it was welcomed by businesses in the region - it is very gratifying to know that in the first four months since this service was operational we’ve supported over 600 companies through our dedicated helpline and web services and 300 SMEs have been given one-to-one support by our network of growth managers. Our aim is to support 20,000 businesses over the next five years and I’m delighted that this year we’ve taken the first steps towards putting our ambition into action.

Working closely with our key delivery partners, the Combined Authority, we have achieved an enormous amount this year, not least agreeing a first-stage devolution deal for the Leeds City Region in March. As I said at the time: Would we have liked more? Yes. But this deal opened up the door to further negotiations with Government. A priority as we look ahead to 2016 is continuing to support local politicians’ efforts to get the right second-stage devolution deal that delivers the best possible economic outcomes for the millions of people who live here.

A personal highlight for me this year was being asked to be the Deputy Chair of the Combined Authority’s Investment Committee. I really do believe that our ambition for extraordinary economic growth can only be achieved when the public and private sector work together in true partnership and being asked to be part of this committee felt like a real endorsement of the valuable contribution that the private sector can make to this agenda.

Just over a year ago we signed our £1 billion Growth Deal with Government and, this year, I’ve been delighted that the first of our Growth Deal-enabled projects have gotten underway, including significant investment to upgrade college facilities in Shipley, Halifax, Huddersfield and Leeds and the first of our transport projects, the construction of the Wakefield Eastern Relief Road.

And finally, a great year was topped off this month when we launched our first impact report looking back at the impact the LEP and our partners have made to businesses, our workforce and the economy over the last four years. With comparatively modest resources, over the last four years we’ve supported 4,300 businesses to grow, helped to create thousands of new jobs for local people and have unlocked £491 million in private sector investment. For every £1 of taxpayers’ money secured by the LEP, some £10 in economic output has been generated in line with the ambitions in the LEP’s overall Strategic Economic Plan.

I’m proud to have played a role in this success, but these statistics are not grounds for complacency - this is just the start of the journey. However, they do give us confidence about what can be achieved as we look to 2016 and beyond. As our Growth Deal investment continues, alongside over £300 million of European funding and other public and private sector investment, we will be able to go much further and faster on the road to transforming the Leeds City Region economy. I look forward to working with businesses and partners in 2016 as we look to make this ambition a reality.

Cllr Tim Swift, Leader of Calderdale Council and Deputy Chair of the LEP board:

This year has been another successful year for the LEP, showing how partnership working between the public and private sectors is making a real difference to our economy. A highlight for me has been the LEP apprenticeship programme reaching two major milestones – 2,500 SMEs have been supported by our local apprenticeship hubs and 2,000 young people have started an apprenticeship. I’m delighted that we’ve been able to support young people, such as Shane Lewis who chose a technical apprenticeship at civil engineering consultancy DP Squared in Hebden Bridge, to take their first step on the career ladder.

I’m also pleased with the work that has taken place this year to support our small businesses. The LEP’s business grants programme has enabled 60 Calderdale SMEs to fast-track investment in equipment, machinery and processes, creating 548 job opportunities for local people. Through the LEP’s growth service, launched in July this year, I’m confident many more businesses will be given the support they need to develop and grow.

Rashik Parmar, Distinguished Engineer and Past-President at IBM Academy of Technology and Chair of the LEP’s business communications group:

As the LEP’s lead board member for communications, this year a significant achievement for me has been the continued transformation of the LEP’s communications programme to become ‘digital native’. By ensuring digital is at the heart of everything we do we are able to reach a much wider cross-section of Leeds City Region’s business community. I was particularly pleased to see the LEP’s Twitter account recently surpass 5,000 followers and be used much more prevalently for two way dialogue.

A personal highlight for me this year was being asked to sit on the LEP’s digital working group, which will lead the region to play an ever increasing role in the emerging digital economy. This is a real passion of mine and I’m hugely excited to be playing a part in ensuring the Leeds City Region is best placed to take advantage of this significant opportunity.

As Chair of the business communications group, I’ve been especially pleased with how this group has come together and worked in genuine partnership to support business growth in the region. But as Roger Marsh said in his recent blog post, this isn’t job done, its job well begun. Let’s be impatient for success as we look to 2016 and beyond.

Eric Hawthorn, MD at Radio Design and Chair of the LEP’s business, innovation and growth panel

The highlight of this year for me was, without a doubt, the launch of the LEP’s growth service. Businesses that seek support perform better than those that don’t - but the business support landscape can be complex and if you are an SME it is often difficult to know where to start if you want help to grow your business. The growth service simplifies this process for businesses - you can give the business growth team at the LEP a call and they’ll connect you with the right support for your business’s needs or arrange for direct support from one of our local growth managers.

I wish this kind of service had been around when I was first starting my business. I’m really pleased and proud that the growth service is already supporting companies across the City Region, with the potential to help many more in the years ahead.

Stephanie Burras, Founder and Chief Executive at Ahead Partnership and Chair of the LEP’s employment and skills panel:

This year, I’ve been thrilled to see youth unemployment in Leeds City Region fall at a rate faster than the UK average, taking us towards a NEET-free (not in employment, education or training) City Region. So far our employment programmes have helped 5,750 young people take steps towards working and more than 80% of young people on our local Devolved Youth Contract Programme have gone from ‘NEET to EET’, compared with 65% for the national equivalent scheme.

Another highlight for me was helping to secure £2.3 million in devolved government funding to provide additional financial incentives to employers in our key sectors to take on apprentices. Leeds City Region employers are among the top in the UK for offering apprentices and I’m pleased that this funding will encourage even more businesses to employ apprentices and create additional opportunities for the region’s young people.

But despite these successes our region is not without its skills challenges. I’m looking forward to continuing our work with our partners in the New Year to ensure our region’s workforce is equipped with the skills to meet the current and future needs of businesses.

Paul Hamer, CEO at WYG and Chair of the LEP’s green economy panel:

A personal highlight for me this year has been making 1,500 homes across the Leeds City Region warmer and greener since the launch of our Better Homes programme earlier this year.

As mentioned in my recent blog post, I am also delighted that most of our local authorities in the region have signed up to a ground-breaking ambition to move to 100% clean energy by 2050, a pledge I fully support and encourage others to follow suit.

Having secured funding for our Resource Efficiency Fund and Energy Accelerator which will launch next year, I am excited about launching and investing in energy efficiency and low carbon energy projects in 2016.

Cllr Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds Council and Chair of the LEP’s investment panel:

I’m particularly proud that, despite the very difficult ongoing financial challenges, Leeds continues to grow as a city with new and developing relationships with major local, national and international investors playing a vital role in our economic success.

Looking back on the year, my highlights include seeing the exciting regeneration of the South Bank taking shape with Burberry and Vastint making key commitments to the city, while the Chinese investment in Thorpe Park reinforces the global profile Leeds now has as a place to do business. In the next few months Kirkstall Forge and Victoria Gate will open to further boost the Leeds City Region economy, showcasing again the importance of public and private elements working together to create jobs and skills opportunities, especially for our young people, which is the key to our economic future.

Cllr Peter Box, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leader of Wakefield Council:

I’m pleased that this year has seen the five West Yorkshire districts building upon 10 years of partnership by working closely with the LEP and York Council through the West Yorkshire Combined Authority. We’re committed to delivering our shared Strategic Economic Plan and the Combined Authority has already started to deliver an ambitious £1bn Transport Investment Programme, putting in place the infrastructure that will drive growth and help create jobs.

In the same spirit of cooperation, we’ve held devolution negotiations with ministers to build upon our first-stage deal, signed earlier this year, to give us greater influence over investment decisions on skills, transport, housing and support for small businesses. Our discussions have been lengthy and robust and we’re determined to achieve a deal that is right for growth in West Yorkshire and the Leeds City Region.

This collective approach has delivered great progress in 2015, including the opening of Apperley Bridge rail station which since Sunday 13 December has been providing commuters with quicker and more convenient journeys into Bradford and Leeds city centres. This momentum continues into the New Year when I look forward to the opening of the landmark Leeds Station Southern Entrance, and new rail stations at Kirkstall Forge and Low Moor in the coming months.