A new plan to transform North Yorkshire’s economy is set to be launched. Business Editor Mark Casci spoke to the man leading it.
With its 48,000 businesses, vast swathes of rural land and picturesque coastline, North Yorkshire represents one of the most diverse and geographically economies in the country.
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The total value of its economy stands at more than £24 billion and it provides a significant chunk of the UK’s food and drink and tourism industry.
But with such a dispersed population and varied communities comes significant challenges in terms of delivering a plan that benefits the whole county.
David Kerfoot, chairman of the YNYER LEP, acknowledges this but said he and his team are up for the fight.
“If you are a city region I think it is a lot easier to write this document than it is here,” he said.
“But it is a challenge we have taken up and to be honest I think we have had a great amount of good feedback on it and that is only for the public good.
“But let’s be honest across our region it is not easy. We are talking about a large rural landmass but it is something that is really high up there.
“We have the city of York, the fulcrum of our regional economy. Then from out of that we have tentacles running out to around 30 large villages and towns, plus the coast. Within that there are sub-regional economies with different and diverse needs and opportunities.”
The contrasting needs and opportunities faced by people living in say Upper Swaledale with towns such as Helmsley and Skipton of course the coast make a unified strategy more challenging of course.
Mr Kerfoot said that the unique nature of North Yorkshire is actually its greatest strength.
He points to the fact York is frequently listed as one of the most desirable places for people to relocate to and that the beautiful countryside seen in the region is extremely attractive from a lifestyle perspective. However he adds that many parts of the region encounter significant problems in retaining its younger residents and that many firms struggle to recruit.
“We must never forget where we came from and being a distinctive place is absolutely a bedrock of what we have here,” he said.
“Let’s face it, apart from the visitor academy, they provide a lot of our food, energy and flood protection.
“The natural capital we have got in a lot of ways drives innovation. We have links into the University of York which we know is a world leader in that area.
“And then we have the incredible cultural assets. But beyond that, we have to accept that the world and planet is changing and we have to be able to adapt to that.”
Much of this change will be led around the areas of innovating around the environment.
Early drafts of the Local Industrial Strategy, seen by The Yorkshire Post, claim that by investing in small-scale renewables, energy efficiency and clean transport could create thousands of jobs as well as cutting carbon emissions by 39 per cent and energy bills by 41 per cent.
The LEP believes it can attract private investors into this plan.
However the issue of connectivity remains a barrier to any growth plans and Mr Kerfoot and his team want to convince ministers that improvements in this area will lead to significant long-term growth opportunities.
“The environment and social mobility are key for us, but also things like connectivity, which comes up all of the time. We have got a 5G city in York but once you get beyond there it can become very patchy. It is certainly, in terms of the more rural aspects, almost invisable.
“And I am not just talking about WiFi connectivity I am talking about mobile connectivity.
“And the connectivity from a transport perspective. Rail links from east to west are very poor and need to be improved. We have things like the A64. There’s a whole host of things and to get wins in all of those areas would be big wins for us.
“We have to make this document attractive to Government and to show that we have that drive and we have that ambition and most importantly that we can deliver it.”
Views to be sought
As part of developing the Local Industrial Strategy, the LEP wants to canvas the views of the public as much as possible.
It is hosting a series of face-to-face engagement events between October 14-17, details of which can be found its website.
David Kerfoot said: “We are different in the way we go about things.
“We really welcome any feedback and ideas, we are really up for that.
“I am so keen, at grass roots level, to get as many people as possible, not only business and political, but people in the local communities in our heartlands involved in this process.”