Driving the devolution debate in the Leeds City Region

Driving the devolution debate in the Leeds City Region

The North is no longer the problem, it is the solution. These were my opening comments at the Deputy Prime Minister’s Northern Futures summit earlier this month and a statement I firmly believe.

It has been a momentous few months for people living and working in the Leeds City Region. There has been an apparent shift in the political and business thinking towards how “the North” can contribute to the economic agenda. The LEP has been calling for greater devolution of powers and pounds for many years now and representing a region that is at the heart of this debate, we have a key role to play in influencing the national devolution agenda.

As Chair of the LEP, I am working with all our public and private sector partners to ensure that the Leeds City Region is the key to unlocking the potential of the nation and can lead by example on how best to sustain the UK’s prosperity and global competitiveness. We know that the private sector has an important role to play in creating more and better jobs and the LEP is the mechanism to bring both the public and private sectors together, ensuring growth in the long term.

The scale of opportunity in the Leeds City Region is immense. As the recent IPPR North report noted, the North is now contributing 19% to the national economy, more than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined. The report also highlighted that, perhaps unsurprisingly, recent growth in the North has come from the manufacturing sector. It also noted that sectors such as financial and professional services, a sector that in the Leeds City Region is second only to the capital in size, is significantly contributing to northern growth. We are the largest city region economy outside of London and have already delivered significant impact with limited resources.

At the heart of the country, we are at the centre of the emerging northern powerhouse. This was evidenced when the LEP took a significant step forward on the devolution agenda this month by officially signing the country’s largest Growth Deal with the Deputy Prime Minister and Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority. This means that over the next five years, businesses and residents in the Leeds City Region will benefit from millions of pounds of devolved funding that will be used to stimulate the regional economy. Whether that is financial support for businesses, skills and training advice for employers or advice, investment in major infrastructure project such as our roads and railways or funding to make our ways of working more energy efficient, this investment will have a major impact on our region.

However, we know we have only just scratched the surface of what further devolution of powers and funding could mean for this region. Government have already shown that they have trust in us to deliver at scale and at pace but there are significant challenges that we need to take to achieve the LEP’s overall ambition to develop the Leeds City Region as an economic powerhouse, creating jobs and prosperity for all who live and do business here. As Chair of the LEP, I am ready to step up to this challenge.

The next few weeks will be critical as we continue to strengthen our case for devolution ahead of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in December. Working with business and civic leaders, we have identified a number of key priorities for the region and will be making the case to those in Whitehall. Yet, this is just the start of the journey. We need the support of our businesses and residents to shape the direction of travel of the regional economy and as the devolution debate continues to gather pace, I look forward to further opening the door to the 109,000 businesses in the Leeds City Region to ensure good growth is felt by all.