Boost for Leeds as business numbers up 16pc

L-R: Adam Hainsworth, AW Hainsworth; Helen Oldham, Johnston Press Yorkshire; Simon Brereton, Leeds City Council.
L-R: Adam Hainsworth, AW Hainsworth; Helen Oldham, Johnston Press Yorkshire; Simon Brereton, Leeds City Council.
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One in six businesses in Leeds has been started in the last year, the council’s head of innovation revealed.

Leeds City Council’s Simon Brereton said business growth in the city had significantly outpaced the national average and had also edged out Manchester.

Speaking at yesterday’s Leeds Beckett University Innovation Network event, held in partnership with The Yorkshire Post, Mr Brereton said the council faces challenges over how to help sustain that growth going forward.

He said: “Some amazing things are happening in our city at the moment.

“There was a 16 per cent increase in the number of businesses in Leeds in the last year.

“One in six businesses in Leeds was created in the last year. That’s remarkable.

“That’s twice the growth of the national average, which is about eight per cent increase. Manchester had 13 per cent increase in the same period. But Leeds has had the biggest growth in companies in the last year.”

While many predicted the introduction of better broadband and mobile technology would move business out of the city centre, Mr Brereton said the opposite has happened, with knowledge-intensive businesses particularly being drawn together.

The digital sector has seen such growth that it had 600 vacancies in July, he added.

Mr Brereton said: “Leeds doesn’t have a science park, you might think.

“But it does - it’s the city centre. It’s the connection of all of those people and all of those activities.

“So Silicon Valley - we should be thinking of Silicon City.”

Leeds City Council faces challenges over providing the right environment for business growth, from infrastructure to skills.

He said: “It’s really to try and make sure we’ve got the right kind of infrastructure, that we are encouraging people to talk and come together, we’re helping our great universities to supply the great talent that is needed and making sure those opportunities are open for everyone from Leeds.

“The challenges we have in Leeds are big, but we’re in a lucky position here as a city to be growing here on the international stage and be getting a lot more recognition.”

Helen Oldham, managing director of Johnston Press Yorkshire, told the audience that the nature of innovation has changed dramatically.

She said: “In the past, we’ve been used to ideas taking quite a long time to come to fruition.

“If you look at the world we’re in now, if you think HTML wasn’t born until 1991.

“We’ve then seen what is probably the most rapid progression than in any other sector ever. We are in the middle of a digital revolution and it is touching every part of our lives.”

Businesses like Google, Facebook and Instagram have “changed the face of what media is about”.

She added that strong brands, such as The Yorkshire Post, are in a strong position to move forward through rapid innovation.

For another well-established Yorkshire firm, branding is a relatively-new concept that is one of its most important recent innovations.

Textile manufacturer AW Hainsworth is an eighth generation family business that has been operating for more than 230 years. It has a long heritage of creating military fabrics, with one of the first cloths having been produced for the Battle of Waterloo.

While many of its cloths have changed little over many years, the firm has had to branch into new markets as its old markets fell back, AW Hainsworth’s Adam Hainsworth said.

This has seen it expand into everything from piano cloths, materials for fire services at home and abroad, and even wool coffins.

In more recent years, it has expanded into fashion, providing fabric for Chanel and Valentino.

While branding was not important previously, brand plays a big part in this new market.

He said: “We’re described as Britain’s best kept secret.

“As markets come and go, we’ve got to innovate and we suddenly realised branding is really, really important. It’s about added value.”

The event was the second in a series. The next event will take place in February.

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The Leeds Beckett University Innovation Network event series is an opportunity to see expert speakers and meet peers. Run in partnership with The Yorkshire Post, events to date have looked at innovation as a driver for growth and innovation in changing times.

Katie Rigarlsford, enterprise and innovation academy manager at Leeds Beckett University Enterprise Services, said the events tackle issues around innovation, which is a “key driver for growth”. Visit www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/eiabusiness for information.

The events are a result of continued collaboration between Leeds Beckett University and The Yorkshire Post. The two organisations also operate the Leeds Digitall Hub, a workspace for digital and creative businesses.