New board to plan region’s economic fightback

Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe

Leaders from across West Yorkshire are coming together to form an Economic Recovery Board to plan the region’s economic fightback from the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the Office for Budget Responsibility currently predicting that the pandemic could lead to a 35% fall in national GDP in the second quarter of 2020, the Board will focus on developing strategies and collective action to rebuild the economy while also minimising the impact of the crisis for disadvantaged communities and the environment.

Chaired by Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and leader of Bradford Council, the Board brings together the council leaders of each of the five West Yorkshire local authorities plus senior leaders from a broad range of sectors, the local enterprise partnership (LEP), business representative bodies, public health, the police, trade unions, universities and the community sector.

Cllr Hinchcliffe said: “Although the future impact of COVID-19 is still uncertain, we know that the path to a thriving economy that works for everyone is likely to be long and difficult so we need to get started now in planning that. It is going to take a huge collective effort to ensure that West Yorkshire emerges with a sustainable and resilient economy, which is why we are bringing together the leading organisations in our region to fight together for a successful future.

“As we have seen in other recent economic downturns, our region faces particular challenges that mean some people in our society will feel the impact of this pandemic more acutely than others. With over 70% of businesses now reporting having furloughed staff, and with 220,000 people in our region employed in industries that have already been effectively shut down by this crisis, we must act now to protect jobs and livelihoods – particularly in less secure parts of the economy.

“We are already working together through the Local Resilience Forum and other regional partnerships to respond to the immediate crisis. By joining forces through this Economic Recovery Board and by making the most of opportunities such as our recently secured devolution deal, we can consider how to give West Yorkshire the best chance of recovery in future.”

The West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Board will look to put in place targeted measures to ensure businesses and people receive the right support.

It will consider how existing strategies, including the Local Industrial Strategy and transport plans should be adapted to take account of a new economic reality as a result of COVID-19, for example by investing in regional supply chains and expanding active and other forms of clean travel to capitalise on improvements in air quality as a result of the lockdown.

Roger Marsh OBE DL, chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and of the NP11 group of local enterprise partnerships across the North, who will lead engagement with businesses as part of the West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Board, commented: “The response to this crisis from partners across our region has been phenomenal, with organisations across all sectors working together to get funding and support out quickly to the people and businesses who need it.

“Businesses themselves have shown extraordinary ingenuity and innovation, and I’d like to offer my particular thanks to those who are stepping up by providing PPE and other vital equipment to the NHS at this critical time.

“There is no doubt that many businesses are struggling however, and as our region has a greater share of small and micro-businesses than other parts of the country, there are particular issues that we need to consider to help those businesses survive and ultimately thrive. We must take advantage of the opportunities this crisis presents to reset our economy by increasing resilience among our businesses and strengthening supply chains and innovation within our region.

“I’m very pleased to be leading engagement with the business community and working with leaders across the region to come up with collective, practical solutions to the challenges businesses are facing and ensure they are able to bounce back as quickly as possible.”

The work of the Economic Recovery Board’s membership includes Rob Webster of the Integrated Health Care Partnership, Professor Shirley Congdon vice chancellor of the University of Bradford, police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson  OBE alongside representatives from the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Business, IoD, Bank of England, CBI and Helen Barnard the acting director of the Joseph Roundtree Foundation.