Yorkshire can think big and also aim big

Towering achievements: New York skyline.
Towering achievements: New York skyline.
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Everything is bigger in the US, so the saying goes. Having travelled there on business last week, I can confirm that from coffees to skyscrapers, there is some truth in it.

It also reminded me of a comment I heard not long ago on breakfast radio in Leeds. The presenter asked whether the city was becoming more like New York, especially since the arrival of Bridgwater Place.

Having seen both up close very recently, I think it’s probably a stretch to compare Leeds city centre to downtown Manhattan; on purely aesthetic terms at least.

However, there are signs of a towering sense of ambition growing in both Leeds and right across Yorkshire. And ambition is certainly something New York has in spades. To quote former US Senator and basketball legend Bill Bradley, ambition is the path to success, so setting ambitious targets is to be applauded and encouraged.

Nowhere is Yorkshire’s ambition more evident than in financial and related professional services, where new figures reveal an industry in great health.

Our latest report on the performance of the industry across the UK outlines that almost 130,000 people across Yorkshire are employed in the industry, the highest number since 2008. This represents nearly six per cent of all jobs in the region, with the industry contributing nearly ten per cent to regional Gross Value Added.

Looking ahead, the signs are equally positive. In the county’s financial services sector in particular, we expect that by 2016 one in every two jobs will be a highly skilled job. Over the next decade, the sector is forecast to account for more than a quarter of all employment growth across Yorkshire.

Talking to business leaders across Yorkshire, I’m struck by the palpable sense of confidence for the future. Many of our members have significant presence in the region and there is certainly a recognition that Yorkshire’s top ranked universities and business schools produce a wealth of graduate and undergraduate talent.

However, when the dust settles post-General Election, there is a feeling that Yorkshire is laying long-term foundations for sustained economic success.

On my visit to the US last week I met with senior practitioners from across financial and related professional services to discuss, among other things, the challenges and opportunities to ensure the UK retains its position as a leading international financial centre.

A significant part of that is reinforcing the value of our regional financial centres, like Yorkshire, and promoting them as a place to do business. Encouraging trade and investment between the US and UK was also high on my agenda, not least the ongoing efforts to secure an unprecedented trade deal between Europe and the US.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP as it’s more commonly known, is an ambitious aim but which if successful, could open up substantial new trade opportunities for the UK.

In many ways, the size and scope of TTIP embodies the ambition Yorkshire should be unafraid to adopt. But like all efforts of this size it needs everyone – businesses, policymakers, and regulators all pulling together in the same direction so that the opportunity is realised.

Perhaps the comparisons made on breakfast radio between Leeds and New York are not actually as fanciful as they first sound.

Let’s not forget that Yorkshire isn’t just one county in the North – it’s the biggest county in the UK. And New York is of course named after Yorkshire’s county town. So why shouldn’t Yorkshire think big and aim big?

A crucial role to play

TheCityUK’s new report, Finance for Growth in the UK, explores how Yorkshire is one of the leading centres for financial and related professional services.

Leeds is the region’s largest financial centre but Sheffield and Halifax are also important hubs. Leeds houses over 30 national and international banks, as more and more numbers of overseas firms choose to base themselves there.

The clear message coming out of our report is that our industry has a critical role to ensuring the UK’s international competitiveness in the coming years. This will be a major policy challenge for whoever leads the country post-May.