A devolution deal which covers as much of Yorkshire as possible could allow the region to compete more actively on the global scale as the country exits the European Union, the boss of the CBI has said.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of Britain’s biggest business organisation, told The Yorkshire Post that the region’s’s brand would be able to compete on a scale in excess of that which could be achieved by smaller-scale city deals.
In a wide-ranging interview, Ms Fairbairn also described Yorkshire’s tech sector as “extraordinary” but signalled a note of concern surrounding the attainment levels of many Yorkshire schools, saying businesses in the region were willing to intervene in any way they could to make a difference.
Prior to delivering a well-received speech in Leeds in which she strongly urged Government to help deliver a deal for Yorkshire, Ms Fairbairn said devolved powers would help Yorkshire’s economy grow in the modern world.
“If you stand back and think about what we really need for the UK I think there are such opportunities,” she said.
“Particularly in the context of Brexit where we are going to be facing a) uncertainty but b) potentially the opportunity to be competing globally even more actively. We need to be pulling together our economy in ways that really work, under leadership that is charismatic, that can take the big successful regions of the UK forwards.
“I think this is a very important time for that kind of thinking and that kind of breakthrough to happen.”
She added: “Without talking about the precise type of settlement, which I do not think is the territory of business, I do feel is there is real will power around cutting through political difficulty.”
Devolution agreements have been signed and mayors elected in Manchester, Liverpool, the West Midlands and Tees Valley but only the Sheffield city region has managed to form a bid in Yorkshire.
However it has faced difficulties with Barnsley, Doncaster and parts of Chesterfield having backed away from the deal leaving only Sheffield.
When asked if it made sense for Sheffield and Rotherham to join up to a larger settlement encompassing all of Yorkshire, Ms Fairbairn told The Yorkshire Post: “Joining up is the right thing to do. One of the things I am very struck by is that some of the global cities we are competing against are much larger than our cities.
“We have great northern cities but if they can be connected to each other with the right transport links and with the right leadership then the opportunities are much, much greater.
“So it is the right time for our cities to join up and work together.
“There are a couple of things that having that kind of scale could achieve. The idea of there being a sense of this region’s brand and what it is good at being really emphasised in the UK and around the world.
“The number one advantage would be someone who is a champion for this region, in China, in India and around the world [for] our new customers and our competitors.
“The second thing that having that kind of leadership for business is that it enables the most important parts of the fabric of the economy to be prioritised.”
Ms Fairbairn also said there are some great examples of business working with schools to help improve outcomes.
“The companies in this region are willing and ready to work with schools and local government to make a real difference.”
Ms Fairbairn had visited the offices of fast-growing tech firm Sky Betting and Gaming and had huge praise for it and other digital businesses in the region.
“I have to say that what I am seeing in Yorkshire is astonishing. Productivity is a very important objective for the country and what companies like Sky Bet and Gaming are doing is they are creating high productivity jobs here in Yorkshire.
“And then you have got what is happening with NHS Digital being here, you have got HMRC coming here.
“I am very optimistic about what Yorkshire can achieve in tech.”