2014 has been a momentous year for the LEP and for businesses in Leeds City Region.
Our outstanding small businesses have shone bright on the global stage, including Huddersfield manufacturer Reliance Precision whose gearing excellence playing a key part in the Rosetta Comet landing, and our manufacturing sector – the largest in the country – bucking the national trend and responding to global demand.
At the start of this year we published our Strategic Economic Plan, built on 10 years’ economic intelligence-gathering and consultation with over 600 businesses across the City Region.
This plan set out a simple yet powerful aim of unlocking our region’s vast economic potential for northern and national advantage and enabled us to secure an overall £1bn Growth Deal.
As well as preparing for 2015, the LEP has taken significant steps to deliver impact on our current projects and programmes that aim to stimulate economic growth.
We know that small businesses are the backbone of our economy, making up over 99 per cent of the business population in the Leeds City Region.
I am delighted that our Business Growth Programme, which offers grants to small and medium sized enterprises, has successfully invested in over 300 businesses across the region.
This investment will result in over 3,000 new jobs in our City Region.
It is also particularly encouraging to see more businesses explore export opportunities, take on apprentices and invest in energy efficiency measures as a result of this LEP investment.
Exploring these new opportunities is the key to economic growth and the LEP partnership with UKTI and the Chambers of Commerce has enabled us to support 300 companies start exporting and expand into international markets.
Following the Autumn Statement last week, I welcomed the news that employers taking on an apprentice under 25 years old will no longer pay National Insurance contributions on those apprentice salaries.
The LEP’s Apprenticeship programme has now supported over 1,000 businesses to take on an apprentice and I hope this additional incentive will see more businesses across our region invest in the skills of our young people.
To create a prosperous City Region now and in the future, it is vital to understand the skills needs of businesses.
The LEP will continue to deliver skills support to businesses through our digital skills programme alongside tailored training and advice for businesses to invest in their workforce.
As part of our commitment to economic growth, we will be launching a new service in April to help ambitious small businesses navigate the complex business support and funding landscape and get hold of the tools to put their growth ambitions into action.
Something we as a LEP have been clear about from the start, is that we are not simply interested in growth for growth’s sake but in good growth that benefits all our residents and communities.
Our aim is to create more good quality, high value jobs that will give our residents and our economy the best prospects for the future.
In this day and age it is an outrage that one fifth of households in our City Region are trapped in fuel poverty and personally I feel this is unacceptable.
We are currently working with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to determine why this is the case and critically start to put in place measures that bring people out of this poverty trap and into prosperous future.
As the year has gone on, it’s become clear that the hitherto unprecedented transfer of funding secured through our Growth Deal could be just the start of our devolution journey.
Regardless of any future agreements with government on further devolution of powers, 2015 looks set to continue the momentum which we set in motion in 2014.
Finally, I am a great admirer of the business guru, the late Peter Drucker, who once said “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”
I’d like to wish everybody in Leeds City Region a very Merry Christmas and I look forward to working with businesses and organisations in 2015 to continue this exciting work and deliver a more prosperous Leeds City Region for the benefit of all facets of our economy.
For more information about the work of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, visit www.the-lep.com or follow us on Twitter @LeedsCityRegion.