Academic partnerships will be crucial to reinvigorating Yorkshire’s economy: Euan West

Yorkshire’s rich industrial heritage and pedigree is indisputable. It remains a strategically important region for UK economic growth, with strong industrial expertise and an innovative mindset.

We lead the way with our advanced manufacturing, R&D and product development capabilities, and rightly enjoy a proud global reputation for it.

However, such capabilities and heritage – while undoubtedly crucial – can’t sustain economic growth alone. Worryingly, Yorkshire’s economic limitations are starting to show. The region has significantly trailed the wider UK in forecasted growth, both for 2023 (0.1 per cent vs 0.4 per cent UK wide) and year-on-year 2023-33 (1.1 per cent vs. 1.3 per cent). Something has to change.

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Successful local economies are built on a diverse range of innovative businesses working to unlock new specialisms, techniques and advancements. Charting a path for Yorkshire that fosters more innovation will not happen overnight, though there are reasons to be optimistic about why the region has what it takes to achieve this and, in doing so, drive better economic growth.

Euan West shares his expert insightEuan West shares his expert insight
Euan West shares his expert insight

Working in Yorkshire’s favour is the wealth of academic talent and expertise available to the region.

Yorkshire has a high concentration of top-tier research universities for local businesses to tap into. Indeed, many already do.

However, going about this isn’t always straightforward. Undoubtedly, there can sometimes be a perceived disconnect between theoretical work done by those in white lab coats and that which is done out in the ‘real world’.

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Overcoming this, and unlocking the potential collaboration benefits to be had, will be vital to driving higher growth for the region, as well as carving out new specialisms. Coming together to collaborate, exchange knowledge and harness distinctive strengths can help foster new clusters of economic


Our Universities can unlock innovation in sectors that the region isn’t typically known for, by providing fledgling businesses in niche areas with sector-specific expertise on-demand.

They can also support well-established players to better understand and manage responses to once-in-a-generation market disruptions, such as the increasing influence of artificial intelligence. These kind of benefits can be seen as intangible. They’re certainly not easy to value in monetary terms.

Yet, they can be the difference between a competitive edge or mediocrity.

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These relationships should also work reciprocally, however. Universities should be willing to engage with the business community and ensure that they are actively promoting their expertise. Working in silos is a barrier to greater economic prosperity and success, so making it easier for businesses to know how to engage with leading academics should be a priority for academia.

Over the past few years, KPMG has been working to embed ourselves into the regional innovation ecosystem. In June, we celebrated two years of our partnership with the University of Leeds. One of the key workstreams of this alliance is working closely with the university’s innovation hub, Nexus, which houses a community of innovators, university spin-outs and scaling businesses. As part of our partnership, we also run the Family Business Leadership Academy, a collaborative programme which we have designed together to support the next generation of family businesses.

The course is physically delivered at University of Leeds and supports the next generation of family business leaders to develop their leadership skills alongside experts from both KPMG and academia.

It’s vital that we’re connecting start-ups and established businesses alike to peer networks, expert R&D, facilities and skills, to drive growth in West Yorkshire and beyond – and it’s projects like Nexus that are providing a blueprint for how to do this.

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Through such collaboration we can help to support innovative young businesses that otherwise wouldn’t have the resource or connections ordinarily required to access and leverage such expertise.

Crucially, it also gives businesses a clear and structured avenue via which they can seek the academic expertise they need in order to hone and develop products and services, and ultimately grow as a business.

These partnerships also offer significant benefits for their well-established private sector backers. At KPMG, our partnership with the University of Leeds has also allowed us to incorporate academic expertise across our counsel on key issues that our clients are facing.

Our current low economic growth is a malaise that we need to shake ourselves of. The next few years will bring with them major technological and industrial advancements that, if properly grasped and leveraged, could present significant opportunities for the region to shine and make an impact on the wider UK and global economies.

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The need to diversify the Yorkshire economy is similarly clear. The region must carve-out new areas of specialisation in order to become more competitive at a national level. On both accounts, business will find the expertise they need on their doorstep, within our Universities.

A brighter economic future is visible, but only if we better engage with academia.

Euan West is Office Senior Partner at KPMG Leeds