The View from Here – Sir Roger Marsh OBE DL

Head and shoulders shot of Sir Roger Marsh OBE DL, giving speech

In this series we ask key figures in the region and from our core sectors to share their insights. We spoke to Sir Roger Marsh OBE DL, Chair of Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and NP11 group of Northern LEPs, about the current climate for business and aspirations for future growth.

What is the current climate for businesses in our region?

There is uncertainty and challenge, of course, especially around labour and costs and if you look at Deloitte’s latest “State of the State” report, Yorkshire and Humber seems to be relatively less optimistic than other parts of the North.

But I’m naturally a glass half-full person and I think there is a great deal to be positive about. We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that so many major companies and organisations – the new UK Infrastructure Bank, the Bank of England, the Financial Conduct Authority, Australian-owned Link Group and Channel 4 – have chosen to locate in the Leeds City Region in recent years.

We employ more people in manufacturing than anywhere in the country and in healthcare, four of the largest parts of the NHS are based here. We’re also seeing considerable growth in the creative sector.

It was interesting to see that in the heat of the pandemic, so many businesses adjusted themselves and adapted their offer to take advantage of new opportunities, albeit unplanned for and through hugely challenging times. It really brought out the spirit of innovation which thrives in our region.

We need to once again become an economy which contributes to the national wealth. We tipped into that net-contributing space just before the pandemic – we can do it again and in spades.


What are the new opportunities and challenges for entrepreneurs and business owners?

As always, the key challenge is to get someone to listen to you, look at your idea, test it and see if it can create a business, attract funding and scale. That “hockey stick” growth curve is not just about the financials – it requires mentoring, guidance and powerful networks, giving businesses the confidence to say, “this is possible”.

Ten years ago, I’d have said that we’re not only good at hiding our light under a bushel, we’ll hide the bushel as well. Now, we’re much better at optimising networks and working collaboratively and innovation communities such as Nexus are fundamental to that process.

We’re seeing some exciting new businesses coming forward through our range of business support including AD:VENTURE programme, which provides tailored support for start-ups and scale-ups and the Connecting Innovation programme from the LEP, which offers innovation support to businesses looking to innovate, whether for funding or collaborative expertise. The West Yorkshire Innovation Network is a crucial platform which will see innovation support providers, increase collaboration and improve the offer to businesses.


You recently attended the Global Investment Summit – what messages did that have for the growth of our regional economy?

It was fascinating to be in a room filled with some of the largest businesses on the planet; some already with a UK base in our region and others looking at the possibility. The Summit brought together more than 180 of the world’s most prominent decision makers, business leaders and investors.

For the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, and I, it was a fantastic opportunity to say “just have a look” at what our region can offer: the workforce, the talent, the expertise and the partnerships.

We need to look at the real business opportunities available to our region across the world. Yes, Europe and the East, but also the West and the South. Who would have predicted that Mexico could be the tenth largest economy in the world?

If the Government succeeds in joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – whose membership includes Mexico, Peru and Chile as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan – our region’s businesses can play a significant role in carving out a niche in world trade as exporters of premium consumer goods and professional services.


What does the “levelling-up” agenda mean to you and how can businesses contribute and benefit?

Devolution means that more of the decisions that have a major impact on our region, will be taken here, unlocking significant new powers and funding.

It was great news to hear in the Chancellor’s Spending Review in October, that £660 million has been added to the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund for a second round of funding. The first round is already approaching the £300 million mark and has seen direct investment into 937 small and medium sized businesses, in deals which have attracted an additional £377 million of private sector investment.

It is that equation – public sector investment, plus co-funding from the private sector, equals growth – where we can demonstrate an unrivalled track record.

When we first secured the Local Growth Fund for Leeds City Region, our mantra was that for every £1 of public money spent, we generated at least £4 of private investment and created £10 in added value to the regional economy.

We’re actually now seeing at least £12 in added value and in many cases up to £26: if anyone wants to see proof of public money well spent, just visit our region.


How important are universities and their innovation communities to this process?

They are absolutely fundamental.

There has been much written about what Research & Development is and what it can achieve for business, but my favourite summary – from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – encapsulates it in just three words: Invention with Commercialisation.

Universities and their innovation hubs are important catalysts for that and we have some tremendous examples here: Huddersfield’s 3M Buckley Innovation Centre, Bradford’s Digital Health Enterprise Zone and Leeds’ Nexus: which was just an idea and aspiration a few years ago, but is now a living, breathing, almost-full community.

World-class academics and brilliant business minds, working in partnership, will help us to achieve that “hockey stick” growth curve and see our region’s economy return to net-contributor status.

We have every reason to be confident, but absolutely no grounds for complacency.

Explore more insights from our ‘the view from here’ series: