As with any such event, there is always a concern as to the level of real support as opposed to an element of “preaching to the converted”. A wider launch to a national audience in London was held shortly after, but the event in Leeds was striking because of the variety of sectors that were represented – energy and environmental companies, manufacturing companies, financiers and solicitors, construction firms, as well as social enterprise and environmental charities. And the message from the audience was a unanimous “how can we help?”.
This is particularly relevant because at firstsight the location of the Green Investment Bank is no golden ticket for any one area. Initially, at least, the bank will have a staff of 50-100 people – very modest by banking standards. So, why is there so much enthusiasm from the private and public sector alike for the bank to be located in the Leeds city region? Firstly, I believe this is genuinely because people want and support the Green Investment Bank. Across the business world, low carbon and the bottom line have become inextricably linked.
Improving energy efficiency and powering our economy in a more sustainable way has gone far beyond the realm of corporate social responsibility. Energy intensive industries such as manufacturing, traditionally viewed as the villains of carbon consumption are, in the Leeds City Region at least, at the forefront of new low carbon infrastructure and technologies.
Secondly there is a real understanding that we can develop our existing economy and grow the jobs market by being at the centre of developing, manufacturing and resourcing green industries and supply chains themselves, all of which would be supported by the local location of the bank.
So the drive is there, but the enduring problem is finance. Low-carbon technologies are new and constantly evolving. For investors, this presents a ruthless combination of risk and technical complexity that makes analysis of low carbon schemes potentially unviable. The consequences are two-fold.
Emerging technologies and services struggle to find investment that more traditional carbon intensive solutions can secure and as a result, innovation in new technologies, which in itself would bring down costs and increase commercial viability, is prejudiced.
The success of the Green Investment Bank is therefore highly relevant to the ambitions of business across the Leeds City Region, Yorkshire and the UK as a whole. Businesses across the area want it to work and recognise that the right location will be critical to the bank’s success. This is the crux of our business case to Government.
Our argument is not one of rebalancing the economy, or giving the north its fair share. Our case is simply that the Leeds City Region is the best place to locate the bank if it is to succeed. Our financial, professional and business services sectors have been, for many years, grappling with the same barriers to low carbon growth that the new bank will be expected to address.
Our business case includes examples of the kinds of projects that companies based within the area have undertaken, everything from local projects to advising Government and playing a leading role in the delivery of major low carbon national infrastructure projects.
One such example would be Co2Sense, which has a track record of making commercial investments in renewable energy projects across Yorkshire.
Part of the key to Co2Sense’s success is that the Leeds city region lies within an area of rich opportunity for low-carbon projects – put simply, we are where the action is.
Many of Yorkshire’s flagship low-carbon projects such as Carbon Capture and Storage and Offshore Wind have fostered the skills and technical expertise with the Leeds City Region that will be needed to make the Bank and its investments thrive.
The experience and expertise in banking, due diligence and low-carbon schemes within the Leeds City Region is well known to everyone who attended our launch in Yorkshire and across the north.
Our challenge is to ensure that this real depth and breadth of expertise is recognised and understood in London and across the projected £3.2 trillion global market for low carbon products.
If we can seize the opportunity the Green Investment Bank offers we can make the city region, and the rest of the UK a real centre of “green excellence” and economic development.
Neil Mclean is chairman of the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). To find out more and support the city region’s bid for the Green Investment Bank, visit www.greenbanklcr.org.uk