Financial services sector 'must fill jobs gap'

YORKSHIRE's financial services sector must win more work beyond its borders to compensate for looming public sector job cuts, according to the chief executive of Financial Leeds.

The body, which promotes the Leeds city region's financial services cluster, said it has the potential to be the "leading engine for economic renaissance" in the face of Government austerity cuts.

Research by Financial Leeds suggests the city region's financial services sector outperformed both London and the UK in 2008 and 2009, and is on course to do so again this year.

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It claims that despite the collapse of Bradford & Bingley and the rescue takeover of Halifax Bank of Scotland, the Leeds city region's rate of financial services job losses between 2008 and 2010 was lower than the national picture by 14,000 jobs, and beat the London rate of decline by 17,000 jobs.

While the region's rate of financial services employment dropped about two per cent in 2008, it grew marginally in 2009.

Financial Leeds argues that, based on the economic contribution of these safeguarded jobs, an extra 881m to 1.07bn was added to the region's economy.

"The sector needs to continue to drive growth," said Howard Kew, chief executive of Financial Leeds.

"The economic models show that this sector needs to produce the majority of new jobs.

"It has to come from doing more international and national business, not just relying on the local economy.

"The big national and international firms will put specialist work into Leeds which adds to the Yorkshire dollar."

Mr Kew, the former director of capital management for Aviva UK Life and one-time treasurer of Leeds Building Society, said the region risked "implosion" after a tough 2008, because of its increasing reliance on financial services work since 2000.

"(The risk was) maybe that bubble could burst," he said. "But the implosion did not happen.

"The evidence is that Leeds must be servicing more than just it's local economy or it would be behind in the same way (as the UK and London).

"The reason for this is because of the diversity of the professional and financial services in Leeds. It's not dependent on any one sub-sector."

The region has the largest concentration of financial and professional services organisations outside London.

It is home to building societies such as Yorkshire and Leeds, banks including First Direct and Yorkshire Bank, major insurers such as Aviva and CPP, as well as a wealth management and stockbroking hub. It also has a high concentration of major and mid-tier law firms, plus more than 200 accountancy firms.

In September legal industry "Bible" the Legal 500 said Yorkshire law firms are competing with London rivals to gain work from Britain's biggest companies. The report said many Yorkshire firms are providing "London quality for a reasonable provincial price".

Figures from TheCityUK, the new body set up to support the UK's financial services industry, show the sector employs about 1.9 million people nationally.

Its figures also show Yorkshire and the Humber employs about 146,000 in financial services and related professions, making up a total 7.6 per cent of its workforce but contributing a disproportionately large sum to the economy.

However, research by accountants PriceWaterhouseCoopers suggests 82,000 jobs in the public and private sector will go in Yorkshire and the Humber as a result of spending cuts, because of its over-reliance on public sector work.

In a separate interview, the new chief executive of TheCityUK Chris Cummings said after paying a heavy price during the recession, through job losses and public outcry over financial imprudence, the industry must "regain permission" to rebuild.

"Our challenge is to regain permission to run a competitive industry here in the UK," he said.

"We have been through the necessary rounds of increased regulation. We must now demonstrate that financial services is a meaningful employer in the UK.

"The attitude is mellowing but unless we have the right environment here we run the risk of losing that competitive edge."

Mr Cummings, who was born in Wakefield and grew up in Leeds, said he aims to strengthen ties with key financial services hubs, such as Yorkshire, and will work closely with newly-formed local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).

"It's about helping politicians understand that financial services is not just a London-based industry. It's a UK-wide industry."