Why Bradford needs devolution
By Mike Reginer
Bradford has a great past and like many who care about it as a city and, most importantly, those who live and work here, I am most interested in ensuring it has a great future too. Yorkshire Building Society has more than 1,000 colleagues based in our principal office in Bradford so this city’s future is entwined with the future of the Society I lead as well.
The Government’s vision of a Northern Powerhouse is one I support, as do many other business leaders here because of the benefits it can bring the city, West Yorkshire and the wider region beyond it.
In Bradford, we need to make sure that businesses in the district put ourselves at the forefront of what the Northern Powerhouse can, and should, become rather than being left behind. We need to grow the businesses we already have, draw strength from our diversity and capitalise on the passion of our people. Working together with our neighbouring towns and cities, recognising that we can achieve more by working in collaboration not competition, is vital. Add that to gaining greater devolved powers and you have a clear recipe for success.
There are barriers, like in skills and transport links, which when addressed will help Bradford play its part in making the Northern Powerhouse deliver.
We see the potential of Bradford through the young people I and my colleagues meet when talking to them about interview skills, or helping at schools like Grange Southfield through our Make the Grade partnership. Its youthful population will mean that over generations to come businesses located in the city itself, but also in surrounding areas, should have many talented people beating a path to their door.
But talent and potential must be matched with opportunity, otherwise Bradford’s destiny will be missed and its future growth stalled. Making sure they can get a high quality apprenticeship, leading to a job at the end, or otherwise find a route which will allow them to fulfil their ambitions will be key. It is right that previously the council has positively challenged businesses to be a part of the solution to the historic challenges we have seen in the city’s education system by rolling up our sleeves and preparing our young people for the world of work. They should have been better prepared for the world of work – and we as businesses can and should contribute to giving them that head start in life. This is better than seeing 16 to 18 year olds struggling in interviews without key employability skills. Teachers need our support; they want their students to do well. It is everyone’s responsibility to play their part and I’m pleased to say that the apprentice scheme we rolled out last year is so far proving a great success, with the chosen applicants making a valuable contribution to our organisation at the same time as building the skills and experience they need to thrive in their careers.
High speed rail is another of the defining opportunities I believe Bradford needs to make the most of, and one which could bring transformational change. It must be made easier to travel to work in Bradford, Leeds or elsewhere in the neighbouring area. Northern Powerhouse Rail, including quicker travel from Bradford to Manchester, and getting to Leeds in a few minutes and then beyond to London and Birmingham, would be a transformation. In the coming months, it will become clear whether, based on the compelling case for the new high speed route to go through Bradford, this is the preferred option of Transport for the North. The case for potential economic uplift, including in the immediate area surrounding a re-configured Bradford Interchange station, is strong. But we also must make the social case, that Bradford undoubtedly has been held back from achieving inclusive growth to benefit its entire people, by being one step removed from Leeds at the heart of the UK rail network. As well as rail, a new motorway through Colne and to our airport, connecting Keighley as well as Bradford better to Manchester and Lancashire, could and must also be delivered.
To achieve such important change, businesses and the public sector not only need to come together at a city level but across the wider economic region. Comparable areas like Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region and Tees Valley have moved to elect Metro Mayors. They will be chosen in May, and following this there will be opportunities available to those areas which we won’t be able to take here. Being able to hold more of the resources to fix their own problems and not rely on Government in Whitehall, where their knowledge of the local economy’s individual character will inevitably be weaker, is a huge advantage for those areas. I am one of our region’s business leaders who believes a devolution deal in 2017 for Bradford, in conjunction with its immediate neighbours, is vital. It will unlock the powers and resources locally to attract more investment and secure wide-ranging growth which benefits all those who live here and reduces levels of inequality and poverty.
The priority for any deal is first creating and sustaining the opportunities our young people want, and only then finalise the structures to deliver it and boundaries around which it is configured. Getting it to work and deliver what people here need is what matters most.
As one of the businesses working with government to achieve the Northern Powerhouse vision alongside the likes of Leeds Bradford Airport and Virgin Trains East Coast who are both already working to increase Bradford’s connectivity nationally and internationally, I’d encourage you to visit northernpowerhouse.gov.uk to see how we can work together to improve the links between more than 15 million people and the places they live and work for the benefit of our common success.