‘Leeds is, without doubt, our economic engine but we have a poly-centric approach,’ says MD of city region’s LEP

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The managing director of Leeds City Region’s Local Enterprise Partnership, which is responsible for attracting and retaining business growth, has set out his thoughts on an extremely positive 12 months for the region in which it has attracted record levels of investment.

Ben Still, who has been the MD for LCR LEP for three years, spoke to TheBusinessDesk.com ahead of a week-long insight week featuring the discussion points raised at a roundtable discussion, sponsored by Weightmans and DB Symmetry, when senior business leaders debated the region’s strengths and opportunities.

One of the clear points Still made was that the region had to balance its economy across its towns and cities – not just focus on Leeds.  Still said: “Leeds is, without doubt, our economic engine but we have a poly-centric approach. For those companies looking to expand or re-locate, we have a one-stop shop that opens doors and puts them in touch with partners across the patch.

“Ultimately, inward investors are looking for a range of options. The overwhelming factor is talent and skills that we already have in the region. Leeds and Bradford are young cities.”

Coverage of the roundtable discussion – which was attended by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Leeds City Council, Leeds City Region LEP, Nexus at the University of Leeds, Leeds Bradford Airport, Yorkshire Building Society and CPP – will be published throughout this week.

The MD added that the announcement of Channel 4’s headquarters moving to the region had resulted in even more enquiries. Still said: “Things have never looked more positive for us. We are experiencing both huge levels of enquiries coming in to us as a LEP and also external investors showing increased interest in the region. This shows that despite uncertainty, we are still seeing growth.”

Still named successes such as PwC announcing a new office in Bradford, Channel 4 re-locating its head office to Leeds and Reed Smith opening its growing business in Leeds and overseas investors such as Scaled Insights choosing the region to locate their teams.

“We are seeing continued interest from an FDI (foreign direct investment) perspective across markets that are really important to us, like North America. North-shoring is also a big attractor for investors too.

“There has been a step-change since the arrival and growth of companies like Sky and Channel 4.”

Still added that the education offer across the region was strong and “provided what businesses were looking for.” He added: “There is definitely an emphasis on the education sector re-skilling people.”

Also appealing to those looking to invest is the region’s central location. Still added: “But connectivity is both a strength and a weakness.”

He said that work was being done to achieve better connectivity across the region and across the north. “In terms of the railways, it has clearly been challenging over the last 12 months, since May 18. They still have some work to do to build confidence but expectations are still high.”

Still said that the firms were investing in new capacity and track enhancements in order to address the issue, which would in turn help businesses across the region.

He said it was important to showcase LCR across the globe at trade events and through delegations to South East Asia, UEA and other markets. Sectors like medtech and fintech were especially likely to thrive from such activity, he said.

“We have a really good set of business partners that work with us; but that’s not just about sponsorship. It is about recognising the importance of their sectors to our city region’s growth. It is about helping to develop the talent pipeline.”

Still said “having a sustained presence” at delegations was helping to gain momentum in highlighting the LCR as a region to invest; as well as the wider Northern Powerhouse message.

“We are on that journey, going in the right direction, and there is still a lot more to do in that regard.”

Still said SMEs were also central to the journey, as their investment and growth on the region was imperative. “We are working with them to act as inspirational beacons. It is not just about the big companies – it also has to be about the SMEs.”

Still has been in his current role for four years. He said the highlights he would pick out during his tenure would include reaching  the milestone of ‘10,000 businesses helped’ via the LEP’s Business Growth Hub. He said: “This is nearly 10% of our business stock and shows the LEP is having a material positive impact on the city region economy.”

He also named achieving higher year-on-year FDI growth, with over 220 FDI investments. He added: “Last year, LSH’s figures showed we had highest levels of investment since the 2008 recession with over £1.9bn of deals. On top of this the LEP secured C4, and helped with PWC in Bradford, Reed Smith, Covea, Burberry to name but a few.”

Still also felt that being the first LEP to secure delivery agreements with all seven Further Education providers in the city region – in particular with over 3500 apprenticeship starts in 17/18, and nearly 60,000 students taking FE courses – was a particular highlight.

He added: “I am also really pleased that we have a really successful Enterprise Advisor network working with the majority of our 160 secondary schools to introduce pupils to business and the world of work.  And we are significant investor in FE infrastructure; for example funding the Leeds City College Quarry Hill expansion.”

Full coverage of the Leeds City Region roundtable will feature throughout TheBusinessDesk.com throughout this week.