Stephen Purvis: Region’s leaders need to think globally

What is the future for cities like Leeds?
What is the future for cities like Leeds?
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INCREDIBLY, a year has passed since the UK voted to leave the European Union. Despite all the discussion and debate since June 23, 2016, we are barely any further forward in understanding what exactly Brexit will mean for the UK and the North.

This year’s General Election result had added a new dimension to the debate surrounding Brexit, as politicians and commentators try to interpret the instructions handed down by voters.

Policy North maintains one very clear position. Whatever relationship the UK enjoys with the EU, once the drawn out negotiations are concluded, we must be able to enter into free trade agreements with anyone we choose.

That means leaving the Customs Union.

Failure to do so will prevent us from taking advantage of the global opportunities that will exist and that are crucial for the North. 
Successive governments have attempted economic rebalancing and regional development. The effects have been piecemeal and costly. Brexit can be different but the North needs a fresh approach.

The Government’s strategy for the North centres on closer collaboration between great north cities.

Policy North will always support that approach where it makes sense, but it cannot be the central vision for the North post Brexit. Our political representatives need to think much bigger – they need to think globally.

It is clear that the export potential provided by Brexit is having a positive effect on exports from Yorkshire.

The value of goods exported by companies in Yorkshire and the Humber rose by more than a fifth (21 per cent) in the first three months of 2017 when compared to the same period in 2016.

Exports from Yorkshire and the Humber companies reached £3.9bn, up from £3.2bn in the same period last year – with exports to North America, Asia and Oceania accounting for 39 per cent of the region’s exports.

Machinery and transport exports made the most significant contribution – accounting for 29 per cent of the total value and chemicals accounted for 23 per cent.

More good news was the increase in the number of Yorkshire and Humber exporters – from 8,959 in the first quarter of 2016 to 9,365 in the first three months of 2017.

In addition, exports from Yorkshire and the Humber to China have doubled in the past 10 years – a positive sign that Yorkshire and the Humber is a growing area of opportunity.

For instance, in Yorkshire, Burberry exports a considerable proportion of its luxury products from its brand new £50m manufacturing and weaving facility at South Bank in Leeds – important for the growing appetite in China for luxury goods.

Despite this, there is still room for improvement, as a Centre for Cities report showed at the beginning of this year.

Out of 62 British cities analysed for the amount of exports per job, five of the 10 cities with the lowest exports per job ratio were in Yorkshire.

The North has a long history of trading internationally and that approach will help us to secure international investment, jobs and growth.

Imagine the untapped opportunities that exist for Leeds in Louisiana, Sheffield in Singapore, Manchester in Malaysia and Newcastle in New Zealand?

How can the North develop networks and forge business connections with growing economies such as the Gulf states and in new industries including FinTech and Biotech?

These are the questions that we are in a global race to answer.

But we cannot do that with a domestic-focused agenda that lacks substance. That is why we believe the Northern Powerhouse is no longer good enough to service the future needs of a truly Global North.

Stephen Purvis is chair of Policy North