Chairman's Blog: LEP Growth Deal - one year on

Roger Marsh is Chair of the LEP, the former senior partner at PWC Leeds and a member of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Board. Here, he shares his views on the Northern Powerhouse and the role of the Leeds City Region within it.

When I took on the role of LEP Chair two years ago, I could only have dreamt so much would be achieved in such a short space of time. I joined the LEP at a pivotal moment, with an opportunity to grasp significant powers and funding and take control of our own economic destiny.

One year on from the announcement of our £1 billion-plus Growth Deal with government, the wheels are now fully in motion with our first projects underway, delivering our vision of transformational economic growth.

Earlier this month we opened the doors to one of these new projects - our new growth service, designed to help ambitious small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the region to grow, prosper and create jobs. Having met and consulted businesses over the last few years, we know that they are often unaware of the support available to help them develop or unsure how to access it. Our growth service has been created specifically for SMEs and brings together support from the LEP and our partners, making it easier for businesses to explore and identify the right support to enable them to grow. Keighley based Airedale Springs – a family run company that faced potential disaster as a fire tore through their manufacturing site - saw the opportunities to rebuild the business and train young people through an apprenticeship programme. The LEP supported the business with funding for new machinery and new staff including apprentices, and helped them on the journey to recovery with plans for further growth. The LEP’s new growth service aims to make the process of getting support as light touch and simple as possible and help companies like Airedale Springs take their next steps towards growth.

As part of this new service we are supporting businesses secure the right skills for their employees. The aim of the LEP’s skills service is to put money in the hands of employers, enabling them to source the skills solutions they require to develop and grow. We have already supported 100 businesses to identify their skills needs and secure funding for training.

We are also working with schools, colleges and universities across the region to help young people take their first steps onto the career ladder with the skills for the future jobs market. Our skills capital programme, agreed as part of our Growth Deal, has already committed funding to four colleges in the region to enable them to create a world class learning environment for young people. With funding secured for subsequent years, we are confident this will have a direct impact on developing the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders.

To transform our economy, we need to complement the support for local businesses and young people with investment in our region’s infrastructure. This will help get people to places and goods to markets faster, and connect our great villages, towns and cities. National schemes such as HS2 and HS3 are vital if we are to compete globally for further international investment - but investment in local programmes will return significant impact locally. The first transport project funded as a result of the £1bn transport fund for West Yorkshire and York, agreed as part of our Growth Deal, recently started on site investing over £30m in Wakefield. This is not only good news for local businesses and residents in Wakefield, but it addresses decades of under investment in our road networks and marks the next step in our transformational growth journey.

One momentous year after our Growth Deal announcement, I have taken time to pause and reflect on how much has been achieved in such a short space of time. We will continue to build on our strong partnership with government and local organisations with the sole aim of delivering substantial economic impact. But- as always - there is more to do.

Infrastructure investment and the internationalisation of our economy are critical to delivering growth. With the development of an international team within the LEP, housing and regeneration projects starting on site later this year, the forthcoming Innovation and Enterprise centres at Leeds and Huddersfield University and development on the University Enterprise Zone at Bradford, we have a lot to be encouraged by in the months ahead. With continued engagement with government to support businesses, we have the ability to deliver further significant impact over the next year and beyond.