Leeds Capital of Culture bid ‘could boost business’

The bid for Leeds to become European Capital of Culture in 2023 could have a lasting impact for the city, business leaders in the region said.

Jacqueline Gold, chief executive, Ann Summers

Last month, Leeds City Council gave the go-ahead for the city to fight for the title, which is awarded to cities around the European Union.

Glasgow and Liverpool are the only two UK cities to receive the honour, in 1990 and 2008 respectively.

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Hosting the title is expected to cost a minimum of €20m (£14m), but could bring significant economic benefits.

Haribo chief executive Herwig Vennekens and Rob Wilmot, chairman and chief executive of Crowdicity, backed the bid as having great potential for the city.

Speaking on a panel at the Buy Yorkshire conference, Belgian-born Mr Vennekens said the title “could put Leeds on the map”.

“It can play a role in creating an image for Leeds which currently does not exist, which could attract more people to consider moving to the area.

“It would also generate some awareness and attention for Leeds outside of the UK.”

Jacqueline Gold, chief executive of Ann Summers, said inward investment could boost retailers.

Cities to need work with local developers on parking and offer a leisure environment, with restaurants, bars, independent retailers and good access to shopping centres, she said.

“If that could be combined, it could have an extended positive impact,” she said.

However, Flamingo Land owner Gordon Gibb dismissed the bid’s ability to boost business.

He said: “I’m a little bit sceptical about the phrase ‘legacy’, it seems to be an excuse to spend trillions and trillions of tax-payers money on different projects.

“I struggle to see the benefit in terms of our business, that’s for sure. I think it’s been announced to tick off a box when people are asking for public money to be spent and I don’t really see the benefit.”

But Crowdicity boss Mr Wilmot said the UK’s previous winning cities show the potential.

He said: “When you look at Liverpool and Glasgow, they both had a resurgence after they became Capital of Culture.

“It just brings a level of optimism.”

Mr Wilmot also urged people not to see cities in the region as in competition with each other, after an audience member queried the Leeds focus.

The Doncaster-based businessman said: “I’m blind to London, Yorkshire, Edinburgh - I don’t care.

“I’m quite happy to be selling my wares in London but also abroad. I don’t think it matters where you are.

“Yorkshire is great, it’s a big player on a big stage. It doesn’t matter where you come from, we should celebrate what individuals do rather than what a city or a region is, and just get on with it.”

This year’s fifth annual Buy Yorkshire, hosted by The Yorkshire Mafia, was expected to welcome around 4,000 delegates over two days.

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Conversion courses could be offered to bring graduates into the digital sector to address the growing skills gap in Leeds.

Richard Flint, chief executive of Sky Betting & Gaming, told the Buy Yorkshire conference that as well as keeping talent in the city, the industry should look to other ways to boost skills.

Mr Flint said: “There are ways we can channel people who might not have done relevant degrees to move their abilities into the digital space, where there are great careers to be had.”

The company is looking at one-year courses that will allow people to retrain before joining the business.

“As a sector, that’s the sort of thing we need to do to grow our talent here in the city,” he said.