Suzanne Robinson: The North can’t get left behind

As Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds noted in this newspaper, EY research shows Yorkshire and the Humber is forecast to be the region with the country’s slowest economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Suzanne Robinson, EY managing partner for Yorkshire.

EY’s recent Regional Economic Forecast revealed that the region’s economy will be one of four not expected to return to its 2019 levels by 2023 (when measured by Gross Value Added), while employment in the region will be lower by 2023 than it was in 2019.

Our research showed the city of Hull is expected to experience the region’s greatest contraction from 2019 to 2023, with GVA expected to fall an average of 0.52 per cent a year to 2023 from 2019, while employment is forecast to decline by 0.65 per cent a year over the same period.

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Given the forecast for the region, all eyes were on the Budget to see what steps the Chancellor would take to support levelling-up the UK’s economy – and there were a number of key announcements.

Nine Yorkshire towns stand to benefit from Government investment through the Levelling Up Fund’s first Towns deals.

The Humber will be home to one of eight new ‘freeports’, areas with different rules to make it easier and cheaper to do business – creating a regional hub for trade, innovation and commerce, alongside upgraded port infrastructure to attract investment in offshore wind manufacturing across the Humber and support up to 3,000 high-quality green jobs.

Here in Yorkshire, we are already making great strides on maximising the opportunities presented by the green agenda.

The region is at the forefront of the transition from fossil fuel power generation to cleaner sources of energy, with Carbon Capture and Storage efforts being pioneered here. Plans underway in the region’s energy sector could see millions of tonnes of CO2 removed from the atmosphere in the near future – while creating thousands of jobs.

And the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission launches next week, a partnership involving councils, businesses, utilities, unions, environmental groups and universities, coming together to support the delivery of ambitious climate actions across the region.

Other parts of the region will see benefits from the Budget, including Leeds. The city has been particularly affected by the pandemic, with companies automating or scaling back the back-office services which comprise a significant proportion of the local economy. 

EY’s report forecast a change in Leeds’ GVA equivalent to an annual average decline of - 0.02 per cent every year between 2019 and 2023 and an annual average decline in employment of -0.26 per cent, led by a declining number of jobs within the administrative & support service sector.

While I welcome support for our towns from the Levelling-up Fund, the Infrastructure Bank and Humber Free Port, it is important these initiatives are part of a new approach from Government designed to avoid a growing gap between towns and cities, and North and South.

There must be a concerted move away from a top-down approach to policies: boosting local capabilities and understanding local characteristics should be the starting point for working up to national policy frameworks.

Efforts should be concentrating on planning for more devolved localised decision-making, allowing for joined up and long-term strategies for growth based on regional knowledge.

Once plans are agreed, resources should be released to local control for delivery wherever practical.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson