Words by: Cllr Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council
Ask one hundred local people what makes Leeds unique or attractive and you’ll get a hundred different answers. The city has so much going for it. If your hundred people were in business, then you might hear about the skills and talent available from the region’s workforce, or the strengths of the many sectors in our mixed economy, cutting edge R & D in digital or health technologies, great universities and colleges whose students want to stay and work, the city region’s connectivity, the Northern Powerhouse potential, and of course the quality of life in Yorkshire.
Ask me and you’ll get a very clear and simple answer. People come first in Leeds. Leeds is a compassionate city with a strong economy because we believe that caring about people – tackling poverty and reducing inequality – drives growth. The more people can play an active part in our economy, producing and consuming, the stronger that economy will get.
In my own ward of Middleton Park, some years ago now, ASDA opened a new superstore. They worked with local Councillors and the council’s employment and skills team to focus their recruitment on the surrounding neighbourhood providing locally accessible jobs and training where unemployment was high and skills and confidence were low. That is a great example of Inclusive Growth: where people and business grow together.
If that sort of thing is in the Leeds DNA, and has been going on for years, why are we publishing a ‘new’ Inclusive Growth strategy this month? Well, to quote from the strategy document, “We have identified twelve big ideas to shape our city by boosting our long-term productivity, competitiveness and social inclusion. There is a lot of good work already taking place in Leeds but there remains an opportunity for this to have renewed focus, a clearer strategic context and stronger commitment from businesses and others in the city.”
You can read more about the strategy at https://www.leedsgrowthstrategy.co.uk but the takeaway message is that the 12 Big Ideas pick up all the city’s strengths and link them together. By building on these linked strengths within the city region and the Northern Powerhouse and by continuing to put people at the heart of growth we can be the best city in the UK. Best for business. Best for people.
The Big Ideas bring together our strengths in new ways to support growth for people, places and productivity. For example, an inclusive growth approach can find room both to double the size of the city centre – South Bank and HS2 initiatives – and develop a federal economy via the growth potential of economic hubs like Kirkstall Forge, Thorpe Park and the airport. We can support our anchor institutions at the same time as nurturing creative innovators and social businesses. We must pair up our businesses with our educators and our young people to tackle skills gaps and realise potential. We will invest in 21st century infrastructure, digital, physical and social. And we should all shout much louder about Leeds…our achievements and the way we do things.
I’m grateful to the organisations in the city who have already made a pledge to support inclusive growth. I’m asking all of you to do the same. It can be as simple as pledging to carry on doing what you do, or do more of it, or do it slightly differently…so long as it helps deliver on a Big Idea. Take a look at who’s pledged so far, and join us, at https://www.leedsgrowthstrategy.co.uk/make-a-pledge