In this series we ask key figures in the region and from our core sectors to share their insights.
We spoke to Tom Riordan CBE, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council about the key challenges and opportunities he sees for the city and his vision for inclusive growth across the region, driven by local decision makers.
How would you describe the current outlook for Leeds and the wider regional economy?
Well, in business as in football, Leeds is very much in the premier league and people want to be part of a winning team. There are significant challenges, of course, around the cost of living and specific health and social issues following the pandemic, but our economy has been pretty resilient because of the diversity of our businesses – we are not over-dependent on a single sector.
It’s great to see people coming back into the city – Thursday night is very much the new Friday – helping the hospitality industry and event organisers to recover from a very difficult period.
And we’ve got a strong investment pipeline across the city, with development of the South Bank well under way, creating 10,000 new jobs which is a real boost for the local economy. It’s very much a Scandinavian-style vision for Leeds, with a new City Centre Park, more public spaces, walking and cycling routes, as well as development for businesses and new homes.
What are the key challenges we face?
We have to direct our winning formula to address fundamental social issues and ensure inclusive growth. Reaching out to schools and communities with information about the huge opportunities which exist across our region, particularly in the health tech, digital and creatives sectors, is critical.
We’ve been delighted to be part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (MIT REAP), which has seen a strongly diverse range of entrepreneurs receive vital mentoring and support from local businesses – including from the Nexus community – as well as academic specialists and professional advisers.
A 50:50 split of female to male business owners and more than 40% from ethnic minority backgrounds is a significant step and we need to continue to build on that.
And what are the key opportunities?
We are increasingly seen as global leaders in the health tech and life sciences sector and the creation of our new children’s hospital will see Leeds providing the most advanced treatments, technologies and research in the world – another major step in our drive to be an Innovation Village and centre of excellence for healthcare.
The University of Leeds is a magnet for overseas students, delivering a huge skills and talent pool for local businesses and Nexus provides a clear landing point for that vital collaboration.
The University’s Leeds Living Lab initiative is also seeing our brilliant students, academics and city partners drive innovation across the key issues of biodiversity, air quality and food waste – developing sustainable solutions to global societal challenges.
We’re rebuilding international relationships with cities and countries across the world and there are tremendous opportunities for Leeds and our wider city region.
How can business benefit and contribute to your vision for Leeds?
There is a distinct Team Leeds ethic in our business community and a willingness to share expertise and best practice, which is really refreshing. Local businesses are continuing to support the BUILD programme, providing vital advice and mentoring for start-ups and the ide@ community which is helping aspiring business owners achieve their ambitions.
Taking part in the re-emerging conference and events calendar is also critical to that sharing of knowledge, ideas and contacts. It was a privilege to join more than 4,000 people in Leeds recently for a conference focused on regeneration and its success was as much about the conversations, contacts and networking as it was about the insights from the brilliant panel of Council, University, Nexus and professional services speakers.
The Council is committed to supporting the business community through more locally based decision making. We firmly believe that the closer the decision-makers are to the people those decisions affect, the better the outcomes.
As a devolved authority and with Tracy Brabin as Mayor of West Yorkshire, we’re making great strides, but we’ll continue to press for even greater regional autonomy.
We’re determined to ensure that Team Leeds is at the forefront of every investment decision which helps businesses and communities across our region to thrive as we build for the future.
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.