Northern prosperity is good for UK as Brexit approaches

It’s been encouraging to see business and political leaders from across our region join forces in recent weeks to make the case for why, with the right tools and investment, the North will be critical to the UK’s future prosperity and competitiveness.

There was little doubt that everyone who gathered in Leeds for last month’s Northern Transport Summit agreed that giving Northern leaders the powers to generate investment and decide how this should be spent is vital to improving our infrastructure and fulfilling our enormous economic potential.

As I’ve argued previously in these pages – and indeed did so throughout my career as senior partner at PwC – northern prosperity is national prosperity. This is especially true as the country moves towards Brexit.

A devolution deal for Yorkshire – in whatever form this may take – is therefore not just in the interest of the millions of people and hundreds of thousands of businesses who call our region home, it’s also in the national interest.

It’s a promising sign of progress that local council leaders seem committed to exploring all options to see a deal done through their recently announced “coalition of the willing” – and that they are keen to reach out to business through this process.

We are at our best as a region when political and business leaders speak with one voice. I was really pleased to see the Federation of Small Businesses’ Chris Longley and the CBI’s Phil Jones express their support in the Yorkshire Post for the progress being made towards an ambitious deal for our region.

I hope that we will soon see similarly positive signs from Government to work towards a solution that will ensure that our region is no longer the missing piece in the Northern Powerhouse.

If this country is going to meet the Government’s vision of a competitive economy that benefits everyone across the UK, the massive potential of the North’s city regions needs to be unleashed.

Regions like ours need the devolution of more powers and funding so that investment can be targeted to local strengths and opportunities, enabling us to capitalise on that spirit of creativity and enterprise that made us pioneers of the first Industrial Revolution – and is driving the current “Fourth Industrial Revolution” through our reinvention as an innovation and digital hub.

Although we’re renowned here in Yorkshire for underselling ourselves, it’s a fact that Leeds City Region has the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, its greatest concentration of universities outside London, and is one of only two places outside the capital to report a “brain gain” of graduate talent.

Devolution can help us become an even more significant economic force, allowing us to invest in those areas that will have the biggest impact for business and local people. This includes ensuring that key transport schemes – consistently cited by businesses as one of the most important drivers of growth – such as HS2, Crossrail for the North, the trans-Pennine rail upgrade and much-needed improvements to local links, go ahead.

It’s also important in continuing to build our international profile. Ours is already a global city region, as illustrated by the most recent EY ranking of inward investment locations – which named our City Region the best place in the North for foreign direct investment – and last week’s annual national inward investment figures from the Department for International Trade. As businesses look to new opportunities in markets outside the EU, we must ensure we have the ability to build and exploit relationships that will bring new sources of investment, trade and jobs to our region.

“Transformational” is a word perhaps over-used in relation to economic development. But when you look at the role our City Region is playing in reinventing the North as a bastion of innovation and emerging sectors, its young population and attractiveness to ambitious, world-leading businesses such as Burberry and Channel 4, these are hugely exciting times.

With the Government’s Industrial Strategy and the continuing Brexit negotiations, we are at a crucial point. If all parties are as willing to work together as they seem, and business continues to show its support, we really could transform our economy for the betterment of everyone who lives and works here. I for one am ready to get to work.

Global investment reaches new heights

It’s been a record year for new jobs and investment in Leeds City Region and Yorkshire, according to the Department for International Trade’s recently released annual inward investment figures. This year Yorkshire and Humber saw an investment increase of over a quarter (26%), securing 132 successful foreign direct investment (FDI) projects, creating and safeguarding over 3,800 jobs.

The report supports figures published in EY’s 2017 Attractiveness Survey which highlighted that 70% of Yorkshire and Humber’s investment successes took place within Leeds City Region. This success looks set to continue with Burberry, Covance and Sky all announcing plans for further growth in the region.