In this series we ask key spokespeople from across the region and from our core sectors to share their insights.
This time we sit down for a virtual coffee with Eve Roodhouse, Chief Officer, Culture and Economy at Leeds City Council.
Eve shares her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities ahead for our region’s economy and how businesses can be supported out of the COVID-19 crisis.
As we continue to adapt to the changes and restrictions around the pandemic, how can we balance that with the needs of our local economy?
Economic recovery isn’t a linear process – we must be agile and balance working within the changing rules, with the needs of the economy.
Leeds City Council has taken a lead on this and published an economic recovery framework, which will enable us to adapt quickly to an ever-changing landscape whilst striving to build more resilience into our economy. The framework also clearly demonstrates that the challenges of COVID-19 have served to confirm and reinforce what were our key priorities before the crisis: inclusive growth, health and wellbeing and tackling the climate emergency.
Our ambition remains to create a strong economy set within a compassionate city and our framework is centred around the need to: Respond – take immediate actions to support businesses who need our help; Reset and Renew – ensuring we focus on the projects and partnerships that address the challenge we face and Build Resilience – maintaining a long-term view to deliver inclusive growth, address the climate challenge and be the best city for health and wellbeing.
What is the current picture over all for Leeds City Region?
There is clearly going to be deep recession and unemployment – we can’t escape that stark fact – but there are also real strengths and resilience in Leeds. We started from a very strong base and -although we continue to be hit hard by the challenges of the pandemic – there are strong signals that we will return to growth.
Companies are starting to look at the attractions and value of locating in the north of England and as businesses start to look at consolidating their office space, Leeds has a great deal to offer.
We are also well placed to take a lead on areas of business which are critical to the health and wellbeing and climate emergency agendas. Our region is renowned for its innovators and entrepreneurs and that will stand us in very good stead as we re-build our economy.
Digital transformation is vital for many businesses – particularly as so many have adapted to working from home – and the Council has an extensive programme of support under way, including virtual learning and mentoring as well as match-funding and digital knowledge exchange to help businesses meet that challenge.
How can businesses be supported out of the current crisis and to help rebuild our economy?
There are very strong support networks across our region and a culture of collaboration and partnership, which are essential to recovery.
Initiatives such as our AD:VENTURE programme, which supports start-ups and young business in their first three years of trading within Leeds City Region, play a major role and are in great demand currently, as many people have used lockdown to reset and renew their career paths and ambitions. That sits alongside our Digital Enterprise Programme, which is also very much in high demand.
It’s vital that we continue to attract inward investment and we’re working hard to fill the funding gaps which we share with many other cities outside of London. It can be a chicken-and-egg situation, with potential funders waiting to see growth before they commit to investing – so it’s essential that we communicate the really strong pipeline of innovation-led businesses across our region and promote every success.
What role can Nexus and the University of Leeds play?
Innovation hubs such as Nexus and the wealth of academic expertise at the University play a crucial role in our economy.
We worked closely with them on a range of opportunities when we participated in MIT REAP – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme – whose LEAP initiative is supporting people who have an idea for business but don’t know what steps to take, and people who want to start their own business but don’t have the idea. We’re hoping that these two groups will collaborate to share learnings, find mutually beneficial solutions and create innovative businesses with great potential for growth.
MIT REAP’s BUILD programme is also currently inspiring entrepreneurs across the Leeds City Region to scale their businesses, working in close collaboration with world-class research experts at the University of Leeds, fellow entrepreneurs and business, finance and legal specialists.
What are the key challenges and opportunities for Leeds in your view?
Existing inequalities have been put into even sharper focus through COVID-19 and must be addressed. Devolution is a significant milestone here and we are putting even stronger emphasis on employment and skills training, with a new task group which is committed to supporting apprenticeships and lifelong learning to help people adapt to the new challenges.
We’re measuring our achievements against the Social Progress Index – a global, non-profit organization based in Washington DC – which assesses improvements against basic human needs, wellbeing and opportunity.
We think there are some fantastic opportunities for local leaders to focus on developing the right skill sets, increasing productivity and supporting innovation and business growth.
Building on our region’s strengths in digital, manufacturing and entrepreneurship, we’re working to create a better, more equal economy for the future and a cleaner, more sustainable environment, with better jobs and higher skills.
Growing a base of innovation-driven entrepreneurs is fundamental to that ambition and I see a real opportunity for Leeds to develop as the city of choice for those businesses.
Explore more insights from our ‘the view from here’ series:
The view from here – Richard Stubbs, CEO of the Yorkshire & Humber AHSN
We speak to Richard from the Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network about the new traction for innovation across the NHS, his passion for driving diversity in healthcare and his mission for our region to be the UK’s epicentre for life sciences.