Devolution the key to our future prosperity

Recently I was invited to give a keynote address at the West Yorkshire Economic Growth Conference, organised by Built Environment Networking.

The theme of the event was “our region’s future starts now” – a familiar subject as the LEP and West Yorkshire Combined Authority look ahead to the changes that will shape the region over the coming months and years.

We are at an important juncture and the decisions we take now will determine our progress for many years to come. Now is the time for bold, collective action.

As I’ve argued before, I see the North as central to maintaining a globally competitive national economy beyond Brexit.

The North currently receives £45bn in taxpayer support annually. This is why a successful, productive Northern Powerhouse that creates good quality jobs for people to prosper is critical to growing our economy, while also tackling the national deficit.

A meaningful devolution deal in our region is fundamental to realising this ambition. With it, we can be the engine behind the Northern Powerhouse – rather than the missing piece of that Powerhouse.

Despite our region’s strong economic performance in many areas, we – like many parts of the North and Midlands – are still lagging our Southern counterparts.

UK productivity is already at near-record lows, yet the productivity gap between our region and the national average is actually widening. We must address this if we’re going to remain competitive and create good quality jobs for the people who live and work here.

We’re already doing a lot. Our LEP Growth Service is helping 2,000 businesses a year become more productive by providing a single point of contact for support to overcome common barriers to growth – such as access to finance, skills, innovation, energy efficiency or international trade.

We’re building the talented workforce of the future through our Enterprise Advisers programme, which has enabled 21,000 interactions between local school pupils and business leaders – a proven driver of academic and career success.

The impact of our £1bn Growth Deal with Government is now being felt. Recently completed developments include the second phase of Leeds City College’s Printworks campus, offering amazing new facilities to improve skills development in STEM subjects, digital, ICT and catering; the Northern Dental Education Centre (NORDEC) in Bradford which opened last Friday, yet another example of our region’s strengths in healthcare innovation; and the Wakefield Eastern Relief Road, funded through the Combined Authority’s £1bn Transport Fund.

Projects getting underway shortly include a new Construction Innovation Centre at Leeds College of Building; the refurbishment of the iconic Bradford Odeon as a new live music venue for the region; and the next phase of the Tackling Fuel Poverty programme, which is already supporting almost 1,200 households across the City Region out of fuel poverty and will now deliver an additional £1m of support in Calderdale and Kirklees.

Next month we will be highlighting the City Region’s successes and opportunities at MIPIM UK in London. Over the last 12 months we have continued to attract major brands with both Burberry and Sky growing their presence here. Our City Region played a key role in Yorkshire’s success in EY’s 2017 Attractiveness Survey, in which we were the only Northern region to see an increase in inward investment.

These are all hugely positive developments but without meaningful devolution we are unlikely to close our productivity gap or grow our economy at the same rate we have been.

It is no longer acceptable for there to be one rule for the rest of the country and another one for us. Indeed, as the North’s biggest economic contributor and largest population centre, it’s not in the national interest for the current devolution stalemate to continue.

My view has always been that economic outcomes should be the focus of any devolution in our region. However, if a Leeds City Region deal cannot be done then I welcome the efforts of those Leaders who are coming together to explore other solutions.

I hope Government will show the same constructive spirit and work with politicians and business leaders to get the right deal. Government has asked us for bottom-up solutions: we’ve given them several over the past two years. Now what we need is a resolution.

City Region’s strength in Med Tech hailed by Lord Prior at global conference

Leeds City Region’s strengths in medical technologies were hailed at the global Med Tech Conference in San Jose, California last week, as Lord Prior cited the region as a great place in the UK for Med Tech businesses to innovate and collaborate.

This came after Lord Prior launched the Leeds City Region Science and Innovation Audit on 21 September, highlighting the region’s specialisms in the high-growth Med Tech sector. The LEP attended the conference in partnership with the University of Leeds and the Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network to promote investment opportunities and research partnerships to the influential attendees.