Region becoming the best place for business start-ups

Let me start this first LEP column of 2018 by wishing The Yorkshire Post readers and businesses across our region a happy and prosperous New Year.

This is a time for reflection, so I would like to share my thoughts on the past 12 months and the year ahead of us. 2017 presented a number of challenges for our region, however on many fronts we finished the year stronger than we started it.

The number of new businesses starting up in Leeds City Region has increased over the past year, compared with a fall nationally.

Goods exports from Yorkshire and Humber showed the strongest growth of any northern region and are now worth £9.75 billion to our economy.

Meanwhile, businesses in the region were consistently positive about their performance in 2017, reporting expansion at a faster pace than most other regions according to research by Lloyds Bank. As a LEP, working in partnership with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, we have played our part in supporting this success.

Over the past year our Growth Service has supported over 3,700 companies to grow, going a long way towards making Leeds City Region the best place in the UK to start, develop or grow a business. In addition to our long-standing SME grants programme we have launched new initiatives to help businesses innovate and save money on their energy bills – saving enough energy to brew 48 million cups of tea.

2017 was a record year for inward investment as Leeds City Region was named the top destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the North by EY and we attracted investment from major companies such as Burberry, creating hundreds of jobs.

Attendance at the MIPIM global property conference – enthusiastically supported and majority funded by the private sector; a true public-private partnership whose value should not be understated – has contributed to a 26 per cent increase in enquiries from companies looking to invest here.

Our £1 billion Growth Deal with Government is changing the shape of the region, and in the past year alone has seen world-class new college facilities open in Bradford, Leeds, Selby and Wakefield.

We’ve also supported skills development in sectors that are critical to future prosperity, enabling 11,000 young people to develop digital skills through our ground-breaking #techgoals campaign.

Through Growth Deal funding, the Combined Authority and local councils are delivering the transport improvements our economy and businesses need to thrive.

Major transport schemes completed in 2017 include the landmark Wakefield Eastern Relief Road, which has opened up land to develop over 2,500 new homes, and the new Temple Green Park and Ride, which has already taken 6,000 cars out of Leeds city centre.

Have we got everything right? No. The economic transformation we seek isn’t easy, and we will continue to learn lessons as we move forward. However, from a virtual standing start three years ago I am proud of all we have achieved in partnership with local councils and business. We can therefore look to 2018 with confidence but not complacency.

A key challenge we face as a City Region is improving our productivity – which is substantially below the national average, holding back economic growth and living standards. The prize is significant: if we could bring the City Region’s productivity in line with the national average our economy would be £10bn bigger. This means more opportunities for businesses and more jobs for local people.

The long overdue devolution of powers and resources to the region will enable us to take greater control of our future and invest in those areas that will make the biggest difference to productivity and jobs.

Business has a fundamental role in boosting productivity by investing in skills, new products and processes, research and development. Construction and development firms have a role in meeting our ambitions for more, better quality housing – an ambition boosted by last week’s announcement of the Combined Authority’s intention to develop historic mills for housing.

And we all have an imperative to ensure everyone in our region feels the benefit of extraordinary economic growth. It is unaccept-able to me that one in six people in our region still live in poverty.

In 2018, let our resolution be to ensure that everyone who lives in our region has the hope of a good job and a good life, driven by a strong, sustainable economy.

Milestone for enterprise centre

Another project funded through the £1 billion Leeds City Region Growth Deal reaches a milestone today as the University of Leeds’s Nexus innovation and enterprise centre is showcased to business leaders.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority has approved £3 million of Growth Deal funding for the centre, which will enable SMEs across Leeds City Region to access research expertise and support for innovation when it opens later this year.

Alongside the Growth Deal-funded University of Huddersfield incubation and innovation project, opening in March, this initiative will be integral to boosting the City Region’s productivity.