Leeds and Bradford chambers confirm talks to join forces

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HISTORIC rivalry between Leeds and Bradford appears to have been set aside after chambers of commerce in the neighbouring cities confirmed rumours that they are in merger talks.

A joint statement yesterday announced that the Bradford Chamber and the Leeds, York & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce are “exploring the possibility of forming a joint company”.

The statement said both organisations are in good financial health and already share some activities such as international services through Chamber International, joint construction and property events and lobby together on common issues such as transport.

The chambers put on a united front to promote the benefits of a tie-up to members, although Leeds, York and North Yorkshire’s last annual accounts reported “difficult trading”.

Nigel Foster, president of the Leeds Chamber, said: “We think that we could provide more for members if we join forces.

“At a local level, we already do a good job, but if we’re speaking on behalf of more than 2,500 members across Leeds, Bradford, York and North Yorkshire, then we will carry more weight with decision-makers in the region and nationally.

“There is a high concentration of businesses, particularly in the three cities and we can do more to work with them.

“We know that many companies work across the current boundaries.”

Paul Mackie, president of the Bradford Chamber, added: “Besides being the voice of business, we want to do more to help make running a business easier and to enable companies to be more competitive, including through exporting.

“We’re already doing that through Chamber International, working with the Leeds City Region ‘We Are International’ campaign.

“That campaign has demonstrated that through working together we facilitate members to help each other, provide connections that don’t happen naturally and really make a difference.”

A combined chamber would share similar boundaries to the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, which represents businesses in 11 local authority areas.

Anj Handa, a former head of employment and skills at the Leeds Chamber who now runs a small consultancy, said she has not renewed her membership this year.

She believes that chambers should listen more to small businesses to be more representative of their views.

Ms Handa said that reforming the fee structure could allow smaller companies to have a bigger say on policy issues, which tend to be dominated by the voice of large corporates.

“Membership figures have declined and finances are tough and that’s not just for chambers – it’s for most of the business organisations,” added Ms Handa.

Leeds, York and Bradford chambers do have some shared history. They shared a joint operating company which provided backroom services, though this was wound up in the early part of the last decade.

Latest accounts show that Bradford chamber has the bigger turnover, with revenues of £3.58m in the year ending March 2013, up from £3.1m the previous year. It reported a pre-tax profit of £93,000 in 2013.

The chamber’s annual report detailed its wide-ranging business activities, including the E3 education initiative and events programme.

The Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber meanwhile had a turnover of £1.72m in the year ending March 2013, up from £1.58m the previous year. It reported a pre-tax profit of just £6,468.

Its annual report said: “The chamber has made significant progress in turning around last year’s six-figure loss to show a modest surplus for the year.

“Difficult trading conditions have continued, but in spite of this we have been able to maintain membership levels and invest in service development including major improvements to our database and website.”

The area covered by the two current organisations has a population of 1.4m, approximately 47,000 businesses and a gross value added economic measurement of almost £30bn.