Forget levelling up, West Yorkshire can become a driving force for the UK economy - Jason Millett

With West Yorkshire’s first – and the country’s only – female metro mayor Tracy Brabin taking up her new Yorkshire role alongside Sheffield City Region’s Dan Jarvis, it’s time to ask: what makes a great mayor?

It’s crucial that new incumbents hit the ground running, establishing positive relationships and credibility not just with the electorate but with the wider community including local authorities and businesses.

Businesses including those in the construction industry are the backbone of our economy, and failing to understand issues facing them will come at a huge cost to post-pandemic recovery.

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So, what do businesses want to see from mayors? The pandemic has had catastrophic impacts on communities and economies worldwide, but Covid-19 hasn’t affected all people and regions equally. Existing pre-pandemic inequalities such as health and employment have been exacerbated, pushing communities in Yorkshire, the North and Midlands further behind.

Tracy Brabin

Mace has long argued for the need for levelling-up the UK, which has become a key objective of the Government through various funding envelopes such as the Levelling Up Fund.

The most successful mayors will be those that address inequality by improving the quality of people’s lives and delivering sustainable economic growth to help the UK ‘build back better’.

Priorities for business will always hinge on economic growth, framed by rebuilding towns and cities and investing in high streets and digital technologies.

But to be truly impactful and create thriving, stable economies primed for investment and growth, mayors must consider what success looks like beyond their political boundaries and across the North as a whole.

The UK is a highly geographically-imbalanced economy, with most of the output and highest productivity levels centred around London.

Productivity is a reliable indicator for the relative success of a region correlated to life quality and chances, disposable income, education and crime rates.

The most recent Index of Multiple Deprivation shows that 18 of the 20 most deprived neighbourhoods are in the North.

Raising the economic output per head in the North from its current value of £21,555 to the UK average of £26,625 would mean an extra £70bn of output. Thereby, levelling up productivity in the North and Midlands would produce an extra £110bn of economic output, giving workers a pay rise of £8,400 per person, per year.

Both of Yorkshire’s mayors have highlighted the importance of job creation, skills development and employment opportunities. Upskilling and retraining those who are unemployed or have lost their jobs because of the pandemic will be key.

And while mayors will need to tackle local issues, such as Ms Brabin’s pledge to bring private bus companies under public ownership to improve a ‘difficult’, ‘expensive’ and ‘not connected’ service, their greatest success will come by working together.

For example, infrastructure projects are broadly accepted as a good way to stimulate economic growth and job creation. Working together across Yorkshire, the mayors can create infrastructure masterplans demonstrating ‘joined-up thinking’ between cities and towns.

By combining efforts, they’ll be able to shout the loudest and influence channel funding and investment, demonstrating that Yorkshire and the North is very much central to our economy and can go beyond operating on a ‘level’ playing field to become a driving force in the UK’s future.

Jason is the Chief Executive Officer for Consultancy at Mace