Transport links ‘key to brighter future for Yorkshire’

The economic gulf between Yorkshire and London is set to widen further unless investment in transport infrastructure in the South East is replicated in the North, a business expert has warned.

Professor Peter Moizer, Dean of Leeds University Business School, claimed that the concentration of major investment around London would lead to places like Yorkshire being “marginalised”.

He cited the multi-billion pound King’s Cross and Crossrail schemes and said the North would benefit most from improved rail service between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull.

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He added: “The biggest resource we need to maximise more is Manchester Airport. Leeds Bradford and Doncaster are not going to be able to compete with Manchester.

“If we are trying to attract businesses from outside the UK, how you get here is a big issue. If you are looking at the UK, you go to London because it’s easy to get to. That’s a serious issue. The North loses out.”

He said Leeds had a competitive economy, but was “working against the natural infrastructure”. He added: “If the Government wants growth, the logic is we have to spend. You cannot just expect activity to flourish without some support.”

The professor was a member of the Competition Commission committee that led a two-year inquiry into the state of the UK’s airport market.

In a wide-ranging interview, Prof Moizer spoke about the challenges facing British business, the future role of universities and higher education, his plans for the business school and the outlook for the UK economy.

The academic said Britain’s prized engineering industry would come under increasing pressure from Chinese competitors as firms in the People’s Republic got better at developing innovative manufacturing processes.

He said universities had an important role to play in providing the high-level skills and training for the products and services that the UK exports to the rest of the world.

“We have to do things at high levels to compete,” he said. “The difficulty is the Chinese are diving into it.

“The Chinese are getting out of low wage, low-cost activity and moving up the food chain. They are going to try to do things we do as well.

“That means we have to be very responsive to market conditions. We cannot rest on our laurels. We have to innovate.”

Prof Moizer said universities could equip the nation with a workforce that was continually learning and developing its skills as the world changed.

But he questioned whether the UK needed all of its 115 universities and said the historic rush for polytechnics to become universities led to a loss of mid-level skills training providers.

“The subjects of degree programmes have become less relevant to business,” he said, constrasting the UK with Germany, where higher education institutions have retained strong links with industry, helping it maintain its position as one of the world’s most successful economies.

In the UK, however, former polytechnics had created university-style degree programmes, he said, and “as a result, a lot of places try to look the same and we have lost some of the training which would have taken place. If the brave new world does anything it might reverse that trend”.

Universities are facing spending cuts of up to 40 per cent as the Government tries to tackle a record budget deficit.

Prof Moizer suggested that universities at the top end should focus on research-led teaching, while those at the other end should concentrate on providing skills-based training linked to employment.

He said Leeds University Business School aimed to become one of the top 50 internationally.

Surveys currently place it in the world’s top 100.

He plans to increase income from £22m to £30m a year within the next three or four years by diversifying post-graduate programmes and encouraging growth of overseas undergraduates.

He also plans to push corporate executive education and increase the number of partnerships with business “to improve the quality of their managerial talent”. The school works with organisations including Goldman Sachs, Nestle, Rolls-Royce, Prudential and Yorkshire Bank. The accountancy professor is predicting an L-shaped recovery, with sluggish growth “for years to come, but some sectors will do better than others”, such as financial services.

Role of Universities ‘overlooked’

Being Dean of Leeds University Business School is like “running an export company”, said Professor Moizer.

He accused the Government of overlooking the contribution made by universities to the country’s international standing.

“Sixty per cent of income from the business school comes from overseas. We are creating outside of the UK a whole set of people who have very positive views about the UK and Leeds. That’s not recognised.”

The school could claim to be world class, he said, but the global market for business education was becoming increasingly competitive, with China and India creating new institutions.

India is now reckoned to have 3,000 business schools.

Leeds University Business School could stand out by using its position at the heart of a strong research university, which allows students to work with a wide range of different departments, he said.