If the economic performance of the Leeds City Region alone matched that of the UK, our region’s economy would be nearly a fifth larger; an increase of some £10.5bn on our current £60bn. If our employment rate was also the same as the UK, there would be over 30,000 more jobs. By investing in the North, we can enable more and better jobs for local people, faster growth for our businesses, and the chance to address finally some of the challenges that have constrained northern prosperity in the past.
The Northern Powerhouse isn’t just good news for the North; it presents a huge opportunity for the country as a whole. If it were an independent state, the North of England would be nudging towards the 20th largest economy in the world. Unlocking the potential of this vast economic area would unleash thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of growth, ensuring the UK remains a globally competitive force for decades to come and reducing pressures on the South East’s over-heated economy.
The appointment of a Minister responsible for the Northern Powerhouse sends a strong message of government commitment. But we in the North must also step up to ensure that we are shaping the debate in our interests.
In Leeds City Region, we are building real momentum. Government trusts that we can and do deliver extraordinary results, which is why we’ve secured both the funding and some of the powers to begin addressing our economic and social priorities.
We are working closely with our colleagues at the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to deliver our shared commitment to creating a 21st century infrastructure that enables growth. Major transport projects such as HS2 and HS3 are essential to opening up new jobs, growth and investment opportunities across the North but the extraordinary benefits of these national initiatives will only be realised if we create properly connected regional transport networks, and have the freedom to invest in those schemes that will best allow us to deliver our growth ambitions.
Having already helped over 2,000 SMEs in our region expand and develop, in July we will launch a new growth service to ensure that businesses with big ambitions are able to grow quickly and easily. We are also working with local colleges, councils and skills providers to help businesses train and develop their workforce. But we need to go further and faster to attract and retain talent, and create the high-quality employment opportunities that will help our residents forge bright, prosperous futures.
For me, the message is clear: together we’re stronger. Economic transformation will only be achieved if the public and private sectors continue to pull together around a shared vision for our region’s economic future. I believe the LEP must be the glue that binds this partnership approach, ensuring that public money is invested optimally, with proper oversight and accountability, while also applying the skills, commerciality and long-term thinking of business. Equally, the Northern Powerhouse isn’t about one city or city region; it’s about uniting all our great towns, cities and rural communities to create a unified voice that says loudly and clearly: “we are ready to realise our potential.”