In this series we ask key figures in the region and from our core sectors to share their insights.
We spoke to Mark Casci, award-winning business and features editor with the Yorkshire Post for 14 years and now Head of Representation and Policy for West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, about what he sees as the major opportunities and challenges for our region.
How would you describe the current economic outlook for Leeds and the wider region?
The current turmoil in the economy and markets is obviously making things incredibly uncertain. Those areas which are heavily reliant on energy such as manufacturing and hospitality are witnessing phenomenal rises in their costs. That said, some areas are doing well, particularly in digital, and our financial services sector has always been very strong – arguably second only to the capital. Although recruitment is a challenge, the huge strength of our region’s universities means that there is a continuous pipeline of talented, clever and capable young people coming into the city, hopefully staying there, and bolstering our economy for the future.
What needs to happen to accelerate continued growth and success for West and North Yorkshire?
Our transport infrastructure is a big problem. Leeds is the biggest city in Western Europe which doesn’t have mass transit. Travelling around Leeds and our other cities can be a nightmare and it hampers our ability to reach a huge catchment area of talented people.
When it was announced that HS2 was going to Manchester, not Yorkshire and that Northern Powerhouse Rail was to be effectively mothballed, it felt like a real kick in the teeth for our region’s economic prospects. The Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme would have been a real game-changer for Bradford, with employment opportunities going through the roof.
What role can the Chamber play in driving regional growth and helping to tackle the challenges?
The fact that we have been successful despite the transport infrastructure issue is a real credit to our businesses and the Council, but we need to ensure that future investment will not go disproportionately to the western side of the Pennines.
The Chamber will continue to make a constructive business case for the transport investments we need and we do have a really good case, with collective benefits which will serve us in good stead for decades to come. Productivity will massively increase and there will be more money going to the Treasury, benefiting UK plc.
We also have an extensive programme of work with start-ups, small businesses and larger companies across the region, helping them to achieve their growth objectives and find solutions to any obstacles and challenges they face along the way.
How much of that support is focused on the wider social and environmental impact of business?
That is something which is incredibly important to our members and we have dedicated social mobility and environmental groups to help support them. You only have to look at recruitment now to see how high up the agenda this is for people who are embarking on – or perhaps changing – their careers.
When I left university more than twenty years ago, the only questions you had at your job interview would probably be about salary. The conversation is completely different now: what is your company doing in the community? What is your environmental programme? What are you doing about social mobility? What are you doing within the region to make it a better place? This is about so much more than altruism – it’s an absolute imperative and business owners are very much aware of that.
The Chamber’s Raising the Bar initiative is helping businesses across the region to achieve their social impact aims, pairing them with charities and non-profits who need their help through volunteering, donations and fundraising. Anyone interested in finding out more should watch out for our awards ceremony on November 9 (link here?) and our dinner in Bradford on November 17 (link here?).
What part do communities such as Nexus play in driving the regional growth agenda?
Nexus has really captured people’s attention and not only because of the striking building. Whenever I’ve visited, there is always someone who has a position of prominence and influence there: CEOs of companies, Council officials, senior academics from the University and of course Martin and the Nexus team. It is a great environment and a real hotbed of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.
It straddles the worlds of education and business and having a line of dialogue with the team and community brings huge benefits to our region.
What are you most looking forward to for West and North Yorkshire?
There used to be a distinct rivalry between the region’s many proud cities, but I see much greater co-operation now, and having a Mayor of West Yorkshire is a big part of that. I would like to see this continue. It is absolutely appropriate that our region collaborates as fully as possible whilst still maintaining our distinct local identities.
We may have missed out on the Eurovision Song Contest (not really my bag but it would have been a major showcase for Leeds) but we have Leeds Year of Culture 2023 and I can’t think of a better city than Bradford to be the UK’s City of Culture in 2025. Now we can start to shout louder about our prowess.
The View from Here – Richelle Schuster
In our latest The View from Here, we spoke to Richelle Schuster, Head of Innovation Programmes at Leeds City Council and Regional Development Lead at West Yorkshire Combined Authority, about future opportunities and tomorrow’s innovation leaders in our region.