David Kerfoot, Chair of the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership on the importance of the rural economy to the region's success

The campaign to find the next chair of the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (Y&NY LEP) has been launched.

Mr Kerfoot who said one of the biggest challenges the region faces is devolution
Mr Kerfoot who said one of the biggest challenges the region faces is devolution

And the man currently at the helm said his successor needs to be able to “roll up their sleeves and get stuck in”.

David Kerfoot, an entrepreneur and businessman has been on the board of the Y&NY LEP since its inception in 2010 and stepped up from deputy chair in 2018 following the tragic death of Barry Dodd in a helicopter accident.

He has a strong background in agriculture, food production and the rural economy having started his career with US agricultural giants Cargill before setting up The Kerfoot Group with his wife, Elizabeth.

Most Popular

    The couple started the successful Kerfoot Group based in Northallerton

    Living in Northallerton, where his business was also based, Mr Kerfoot said he wanted to make rural, countryside, agriculture and food a priority during his term as chair.

    “I have always thought food, agri, rural, countryside and the link between them was important, not only for North Yorkshire but for UK PLC. I’ve always been very passionate about it and I believe strongly in it,” he said.

    “The Y&NY LEP is the largest geographical LEP in the country and when I took over from Barry I decided it was something which had not been neglected, but had just been part of a bigger scene.

    “We have York, an incredible historic city of 200,000 people, we have a smaller city of Ripon and then across that patch we have 17 or 18 towns of various sizes which drive that area’s sub economy whether it is sheep farming or shooting.

    “I thought ‘big patch this’ we have got to concentrate on it because it is too important to lose. We also have so many natural assets and I always say if you go to any country in the world and you look at a successful city, around or not too far from it, is a huge rural hinterland which provides the water, the energy, the food, the flood prevention, it is so important.”

    Since 2014, the Y&NY LEP has invested a total of £230m to support business, infrastructure, and skills across the region including housing, transport, flood alleviation, social inclusion and workforce development.

    Areas vital to supporting an economy which is primarily made up of SMEs.

    “97 per cent of our economy is SMEs and just over 80 per cent of those are micro businesses,” Mr Kerfoot said.

    “That is a lot of micro businesses, not only in the towns and the two cities but in the rural areas, whether it is in farming, food, hospitality or visitor economy, that is the backbone and that is what we live on.”

    And, he said, he understands the challenges these businesses face.

    “I always say to people I was a ‘BBB’ – back bedroom boy – I set up with £300 in the back bedroom so I really do know what it is like, I know the pain and the grief and I really do understand it.”

    And it is by focusing on supporting these SMEs and micro businesses which Mr Kerfoot said will help grow our rural economy.

    “To a certain extent there is no good us wasting a lot of our money trying to get huge investors into our region. It is only going to be in rare occurrences that we get a really large piece of investment because at the end of the day, only three per cent of our economy is mid-corporate.

    “The way we grow jobs and create employment is through, say an agricultural engineer in Hawes who employs two, and we hope that he will go from him and two guys to perhaps another two taking them to five and we multiply that many, many hundreds of times and that’s the way we will grow.”

    Mr Kerfoot, who is also the High Sheriff of North Yorkshire and a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the county, is due to step down from Y&NY LEP in March next year. His successor will be announced at the annual conference on November 6 allowing a five-month hand over period at what is a critical time following the Covid-19 pandemic and with what Mr Kerfoot describes as one of the biggest challenges during his time as chair, under discussion.

    “In this region we have two big challenges, one is devolution, but hopefully that is coming around.

    “Because we haven’t got the mayoral authority, because we haven’t got the combined authority, we are second division in the ‘asks’ of Government and there is no doubt about that.

    “I think actually getting a seat at that table will bring us a lot more power and authority over what we want to achieve on a local basis and give us more control over decision making.”

    He said the second challenge has been getting the Government to understand what rural is really all about. “I don’t think successive Governments have really understood the issues with the rural economy and what we have to face.

    “People tend to look at North Yorkshire and think it’s quite a wealthy, well off region, but we have poverty, we have rural poverty, we have town poverty and it has always been important for me to push that.”

    Mr Kerfoot said it had been a “great pleasure and honour” to lead the Y&NY LEP partnership and said although there had been challenges, none more so than the Covid-19 pandemic, it had been an “amazing” role.

    On Covid 19 Recovery

    The Covid-19 pandemic has caused huge challenges to the economy and Mr Kerfoot said recovery and getting back to growth is essential.

    He said the Y&NY LEP had a recovery plan which has been incorporated into its industrial strategy of which rural is a big part.

    “There is no point having two plans, we have adapted the industrial strategy to make it partly a recovery process following what has happened with Covid.”

    But he said one of the top priorities to help that recovery is one that has been at the forefront of the Y&NY LEP’s work for the past decade.

    “One of our absolute top priorities for ten years as a LEP has been digital infrastructure. The importance of it has come home even more now with the way we are meeting and how we are conversing. Getting the right broadband and digital connectivity is absolutely essential if we are going to get through this crisis and get back to growing.”

    Mr Kerfoot said with the right infrastructure in place people would have more confidence to start or develop a business.

    “One of the things our LEP Growth Hub – a support hub people can ring for guidance – is seeing at the moment is a lot of requests for information on start-ups. You will always get innovation, particularly during challenging times which I think is very positive.

    “Getting the digital infrastructure in place is vital, but I also think getting the upskilling and the opportunities to reskill and retrain is really important.”

    On Shopping Local

    Mr Kerfoot said developing local supply chains is important to the local rural economy and food security and the LEP has been working to help independent producers build on the increased footfall they have seen during the pandemic.

    “The LEP has provided digital shopping platforms through Shopappy which has had a really good take up,” he said.

    “The supply chain issue has been one of my bug bears for many years I have battled away at it, particularly on the government front. Supply chain and the food security attached to that is a big issue.

    “I have sat for a number of years on the strategic board of Catterick Garrison which is going to be the biggest military garrison in Europe and I have raised the issue of why eggs are brought from the South of England when we have local producers like Potters who could provide a fresh local product which would also be putting money back into the local economy.

    “We want these supply chains opened up so small and micro businesses get a chance to supply. It is a really big one for me.”

    Mr Kerfoot also believes the increased awareness of food standards, which has come partly on the back of the Agricultural Bill, will also drive more people to shop local.

    “I think its a real positive and it is something the LEP will keep hammering home. Given the right circumstances I can see some towns in future coming full circle with the butcher and baker re-opening. I think there is real potential for that.”

    On Carbon Capture and ELMS

    One of the Y&NY LEP’s ambitions is to be the first carbon negative region and with the introduction of the new Environment Land Management Scheme (ELMS) farmers will play a crucial part in carbon capture.

    “Carbon is such big news and the Government is really picking up the environmental asks no matter what sector.

    “The LEP’s ambitious vision is to strive for a carbon negative region by building a greener, fairer and stronger economy for the region.”

    But Mr Kerfoot said the lack of detail around ELMS was a big concern.

    “I think the two dark images still in the cupboard are Brexit and the detail for ELMS.

    “How is it going to be formulated? How is going to impact on a farm? No-one really knows. There is a lot of talk about it but no-one has nailed it down and I think that needs nailing down promptly otherwise how do you plan?

    “It is such an important part of a farming business, how do you put your business plan forward?

    “I know there is a proportion of farms run as a business and others which are lifestyle businesses and I’ve heard on several occasions ‘what will be will be and we’ll get on with it’ but we don’t know, like Brexit we really don’t know.”

    Mr Kerfoot said the Y&NY LEP along with its campaign, Grow Yorkshire, which brings together organisations including the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, CLA and NFU would have a big part to play in upskilling and potentially offering some grant funding in the future to “help in as many ways as we can”.

    Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today.

    Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you'll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers.

    So, please - if you can - pay for our work. Just £5 per month is the starting point. If you think that which we are trying to achieve is worth more, you can pay us what you think we are worth. By doing so, you will be investing in something that is becoming increasingly rare. Independent journalism that cares less about right and left and more about right and wrong. Journalism you can trust.

    Thank you

    James Mitchinson