Optimism and opportunities for 2019

In his latest column for The Yorkshire Post, Roger Marsh OBE reflects on a momentous year for our region and looks ahead to delivering on the opportunities created.

I’m going to focus on the things that are top of my mind for 2019 – a year that will no doubt bring its challenges but also many reasons for optimism.

1. Delivering on the promise of Channel 4

The announcement that Channel 4 is coming to Leeds City Region was one of the biggest highlights from last year. This year, I’m looking forward to working with the broadcaster and our partners to make sure this move realises its potential for our region and for Channel 4.

With three independent production companies announcing new offices in the region in the wake of the Channel 4 news, our priorities will be making the most of the spotlight that’s now on the region to bring more companies here, and developing opportunities for young people to be inspired by having a national broadcaster on their doorstep.

2. Supporting businesses through Brexit

Although the implications of Brexit for businesses are still unclear, we are doing all we can to ensure businesses in our region remain resilient throughout the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

We will continue to build relationships with overseas markets, both to foster international trade opportunities and attract investment from markets such as China, India and the US. Our investor development team will be working with around 100 foreign-owned firms in the region to identify potential investment projects that will create new sources of jobs and growth. We are also looking at how we can use our capital grants for businesses more flexibly to help companies that may need extra support immediately after Brexit.

3. A new, enhanced LEP for Yorkshire

We announced in November our intended merger with York and North Yorkshire, creating a new, single LEP covering the West and North of the county. This new LEP, representing an economy worth £70.3 billion, will give our region an even stronger voice nationally and internationally.

This year will see significant work on bringing the two existing LEPs together so that collectively we can do even more to support businesses and the economy. We will be developing a joint Local Inclusive Industrial Strategy for our combined area, focused on the distinctive needs of the rural, coastal and urban communities which the new LEP will represent. This strategy will put us in a strong position to win a significant share of the planned UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which could be worth hundreds of millions of pounds a year to the region.

4. Connecting skilled people to good jobs

Recruiting workers with the right skills is consistently cited by businesses as the main barrier to growth in our region. This year, we will be continuing our efforts to develop a skilled, flexible workforce that meets the needs of growing businesses, and creates opportunities for local people to find good jobs that lead to good lives.

2019 will see the last of our Growth Deal investments in new, world-class further education facilities, with the opening of the spectacular new campuses for Leeds City College and Leeds College of Building. These facilities are part of our overall £80 million investment in FE colleges, which are creating new learning and apprenticeship opportunities in Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, Wakefield and Selby.

5. Taking steps towards becoming a zero-carbon region

Last month we launched our Energy Strategy, which sets out our ambition to become a zero carbon energy economy. We are starting to do further detailed work to understand the specific measures our region would need to adopt to meet the Paris Climate Agreement targets as a stepping stone towards becoming zero carbon.

With the work we are already doing and projects in the pipeline, we will be two-thirds of the way towards meeting the Paris targets. Our priority now is to identify how we will complete the final third. This year we’ll be launching new initiatives to reduce emissions yet further. First up will be our Energy Accelerator – a UK-first innovation, providing technical expertise to bring forward low carbon energy projects.

This is of course by no means an exhaustive list. Developing a transport network fit for the thriving 21st Century economy we are building is of course a top priority and we will continue to influence Government, Transport for the North and other bodies to ensure our region remains central to their investment plans. Hopefully though, this gives a flavour of all we can look forward to in what will no doubt be another memorable year.

I am also privileged to chair the Northern Powerhouse 11 (NP11) group of northern local enterprise partnerships. Early this year, we will be setting out our agenda to make the Northern Powerhouse ambition a reality, ensuring that the North truly is the solution to extraordinary economic growth post-Brexit.

Collectively the NP11 represents a powerhouse economy worth £329.4 billion – around a fifth of the UK total. By bringing together our enormous strengths we have the scale and opportunity to become a second economic centre for the UK, capable of competing globally for UK plc alongside London and the South East and the Midlands Engine.