Here are the matters that must be Tracy Brabin's top priorities for West Yorkshire's economy - Mark Casci

One of the hardest things to do when you are a journalist is to be in the moment.

The never-ending cavalcade of developments, opinions and deadlines often mean the cliché of “having a first-hand view of history” more resembles a fleeting glance of it from the window of a fast-moving train.

But this Sunday, with a day off from work and a spare couple of hours when family duties were light, I was able to properly reflect on the fact that, after years of rancour and divide, Yorkshire has two metro mayors in the shape of both Dan Jarvis in the south and now Tracy Brabin in the west.

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After so long seeing our region fall behind the likes of Manchester, Liverpool and the Tees Valley we now have two figureheads who can represent us at a national and international level, and access to a pipeline of funding denied to us previously.

Getting the airport upgraded 'a key priority'.Getting the airport upgraded 'a key priority'.
Getting the airport upgraded 'a key priority'.

While the London media fixates on the soap opera of the by-election for Ms Brabin’s former seat of Batley and Spen, we can now get down to the business of meaningful political leadership for the region.

It has been a long time coming but, now that it has arrived, here are the key priorities for Ms Brabin’s administration.

I cannot take any credit for being first to make this point as Tony Danker, director general for the CBI, made this clear in the weekend edition of The Yorkshire Post, but Ms Brabin has to be able to make West Yorkshire a truly internationally competitive economy.

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The Leeds City Region has historically done a reasonable job of attracting inward investment, both domestically and internationally, but this now needs to be turbo-charged, and not just felt in its biggest city.

Ms Brabin was elected this weekend.Ms Brabin was elected this weekend.
Ms Brabin was elected this weekend.

Ms Brabin should be able to advocate for enhanced trade and new jobs in Cleckheaton and Castleford as she is for Leeds. A key platform to making this a reality will be a vastly improved transport network. Ms Brabin has already said bringing the region’s bus network into her control will be a key policy for her mayoralty but she needs to ensure rail and road improvements are given equal prominence.

One of the many reasons Ms Brabin was able to garner the support of voters was her support for the plans to improve Leeds Bradford Airport. In ignoring the mendacious misinformation about the £150m upgrade, which is supported by the majority of residents, she has shown herself to be on the region’s side in backing a move that will give visitors a far better first impression when arriving and create thousands of jobs.

One of her first acts should be to ensure Whitehall does not meddle in the plan which councillors approved in February and allow the airport to crack on with the upgrade.

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Ms Brabin must also ensure that our jobs market recovers as rapidly as possible. Young people have borne the brunt of the impact so far and, as such, need urgent attention but older workers, who were already at risk of displacement owing to automation or increasingly irrelevant skill sets, need the ability to retrain and acquire new skills. A huge area for this will come with the greening of our economy.

Tracy Brabin is now mayor for West Yorkshire.Tracy Brabin is now mayor for West Yorkshire.
Tracy Brabin is now mayor for West Yorkshire.

Figures from the Local Government Association show that more than 50,000 green jobs are set to be created in West Yorkshire alone over the coming decades. By placing net zero emissions at the heart of a long-term economic vision, Ms Brabin can create a sustainable and ethical economy.

Given the divisions that held back the delivery of devolution to Yorkshire for so long, I would like to see Ms Brabin work side by side with her counterparts around the North.

Lastly, and most importantly, Ms Brabin has to be the region’s voice. Her background in drama has made her a strong communicator. This talent must be utilised to ensure that the region’s strengths and needs are made loud and clear to those who need to hear about them.

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All of the above is a tall order but Ms Brabin can be assured that she has the region’s business community and population willing her to succeed and ready to assist in any way it can.

Having waited this long, we all know how important it is to seize this opportunity.