LEP annual meeting: Chair reflects on achievements of past year

As a LEP, working in partnership with the Combined Authority, we have achieved a huge amount over the past year and I would like to thank the many partners we work with for the contributions they continue to make in the interests of our region’s prosperity.

Looking back over our achievements of the past year, they paint a rich picture of the sheer breadth of what we do and just how much we’ve accomplished from a virtual standing start a few short years ago.

June 2017: digital and tech

We started the year as we’ve finished it: with a focus on digital and tech.

Last June marked our first attendance at London Tech Week, which was the beginning of a concerted year-long effort to profile the outstanding strengths of our region’s digital sector.

The news two weeks ago that we have become the only location, not just in Yorkshire but in the whole of the east of the UK, to make the shortlist for Channel 4’s national HQ is testament, both to our region’s strengths in digital, tech and production, and to the huge amount of work by so many individuals and organisations to make sure these strengths are recognised nationally and internationally.

This year has also seen investment in housing, regeneration, skills and business growth through our now £1billion-plus Growth Deal with Government reach new heights.

June marked the completion of the first of four new college facilities we’ve helped deliver this year – the Northern Centre for Dental Excellence or NORDEC in Bradford. This was swiftly followed by a new apprenticeship training centre at Selby College, the fabulous Printworks campus at Leeds City College and the new Advanced Skills and Innovation Centre at Wakefield College, all of which are giving young people and apprentices the chance to train in world-class learning environments.

July: business innovation

July’s focus was on innovation, after we signed a ground-breaking partnership agreement with Innovate UK to help more SMEs in the region grow and become more productive.

That month we also launched a £16.4m package of European-funded support through our Access Innovation and Strategic Business Growth programmes – part of our ever-expanding range of support to help businesses grow and develop.

Innovation often goes hand-in-hand with exporting, and in July we launched a new peer-to-peer network to help small and medium-sized firms in the region break into new overseas markets. There is increasing appetite for trading internationally among local businesses, and our annual business survey, which we also completed this month, highlighted that more and more companies are exploring markets outside the EU in light of Brexit.

August: giving young people the best start

One thing I’m personally very proud of as LEP Chair is the focus we have always had on helping young people get the best start in life and on making sure the economic growth we foster has the widest possible benefit.

In August we signed a series of delivery agreements with seven colleges in the region, to ensure that the training and skills development they provide is in line with what business and our economy needs, and gives young people the best chance of securing a good job and a good life. These delivery agreements were a UK first, once again putting us at the forefront nationally on skills and employability.

September: record levels of foreign investment

Department for International Trade figures released this month showed a 26% increase in FDI to the region, boosted largely by the performance of our City Region.

These official figures added weight to the feedback from our private sector partners that investor momentum in the City Region continues to build – underlined by the record levels of private sector sponsorship we announced this month for our delegation to the MIPIM global property conference.

October: northern prosperity in the national interest

In October, I added my support to political leaders’ calls for Government to come to the negotiating table on a devolution deal for Yorkshire.

I’ve argued for many years that northern prosperity is national prosperity, and I will continue to offer my support to political leaders in their efforts to secure devolution for the region at whatever scale. Recent, more positive statements from Government are encouraging that an end to the stalemate may at last be found.

November: new Board members

In November we welcomed three new private sector members to the Board: Amir Hussein, Nicola Greenan and Adam Beaumont, each of whom is already making a valuable difference to our work.

December: positive return on taxpayer investment

We ended 2017 talking about the value we and the Combined Authority are achieving as a public-private partnership. It is important in the current economic climate to demonstrate this value, and to show the positive impact we are having on the region in return for taxpayer investment.

Two good news stories this month brought home that value to me: firstly, we and the Combined Authority were able to help 179 households in Bradford and Barnsley out of fuel poverty in time for Christmas through £1.5m Growth Deal investment. We also put forward what would ultimately be a successful bid to the Government’s Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund for £4m to regenerate the much-loved Bradford Odeon into a mid-sized live events venue that will benefit not just the city but the wider City Region.

January 2018: best city region for business

We started 2018 on a buoyant note, with evidence showing that our region is becoming the best place in the North to start, locate or grow a business. In addition to our successes in FDI and international trade, we also reported in January that our growth service had supported over 4,200 SMEs in the region since its launch in July 2015 – helping those businesses grow and create jobs for local people.

At our Board meeting this month, we also approved measures to become the most transparent local enterprise partnership in the country by being the first to respond to all of the recommendations of the Ney review of LEP transparency.

February: Transport for the North

In February we added our collective voice to calls across the North for greater investment in transport following the publication of Transport for the North’s draft strategic plan.

I was particularly pleased to see the proposals for Northern Powerhouse Rail in this plan making clear the intention to link Manchester with Leeds and York via a stop in Bradford.

With our partners Leeds City Council and the Combined Authority, we published our own City Region HS2 Growth Strategy this month, setting out the economic benefits we aim to realise from high-speed rail investment in the City Region including 40,000 direct jobs and a further 50,000 from the resultant economic growth.

The recent chaos that has affected Northern Rail passengers once again underlines the need for us to make a loud and compelling case for HS2 and other major transport investment to be realised.

March: #futuregoals

In March we marked National Careers and Apprenticeships Week by launching our #futuregoals campaign to give young people no-nonsense information about the career opportunities in sectors with huge potential for growth. In its first month the campaign massively exceeded its targets, and we will be launching a second phase later this year.

We also announced we’d supported 4,000 SMEs to create apprenticeship opportunities in their business through our apprenticeship grant for employers, and that £134m of our City Region’s ERDF pot had been allocated to business growth projects in the region – over 90% of our total allocation.

April: welcoming new investors to the region

On the back of our biggest and boldest MIPIM delegation to date, we celebrated two notable inward investment successes this month: the announcement that international law firm Reed Smith had chosen Leeds as the location of its new Global Solutions centre, while digital media firm Perform Group announced a further expansion in the City Region.

May: Channel 4 looks to Leeds City Region

We ended the year on a high note, with the amazing news that all of our and our partners’ efforts at making a persuasive case for Channel 4 to come to the region had seen us make the coveted shortlist.

What an amazing year it has been! The coming 12 months have a lot to live up to, but with opportunities on the horizon – including the second stage of bidding for Channel 4, our Transforming Cities Fund bid to Government for a substantial share of £860million investment in local transport, and our work on developing a Local Inclusive Industrial Strategy for the region that will aim to add £10billion to our economy by closing the productivity gap between Leeds City Region and the national average – I am sure by this time next year I will be looking back on another successful year.