Leeds outperforms rivals as base for fast-growing companies

Leeds's skyline.
Leeds's skyline.
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LEEDS is outperforming Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh as a base for growing businesses, according to a new report.

The study shows that central Leeds has 81 fast growing firms with a combined turnover of £2.3bn, and local business leaders believe the feelgood factor from last year’s Grand Depart of the Tour de France is providing Yorkshire’s economy with a competitive edge.

The findings are contained in a report into business “scale-ups”, which has been compiled by investor Sherry Coutu in collaboration with research firm Duedil, and published in The Sunday Times.

A “scale-up” is classed as a company which has achieved three years of 20 per cent growth in revenues or staff. According to The Sunday Times report, the cities of London & Westminster constituency came top in the survey.

It is home to 638 scale-ups that bring in £544bn of combined revenues. Cambridge is the second biggest cluster with 86 fast growing firms, and Leeds is third, according to the report. By contrast, Manchester central has 66 scale-ups, Edinburgh North and Leith has 59 and Birmingham Ladywood has 49, the report said.

The findings were welcomed by senior figures in the region’s business community, who said the report also confirmed that Yorkshire has strong universities that are helping to provide home-grown talent in a wide range of sectors.

Gav Winter, the managing director of the Leeds-based technology consultancy, The Test People, said: “Yorkshire, and Leeds in particular, has a real buzz about it when it comes to technology and business.

“Le Tour and the regeneration of the city centre has been instrumental in changing the perception of Yorkshire, from a leafy suburb of the UK business landscape to a cool, vibrant place to work and live. Leeds has a very supportive community, with everyone willing to help each other out, from lawyers to accountants to business advice groups.

“You don’t have to look too hard for assistance when you start out. Technology wise, an increased use of the cloud along with a decent IT infrastructure has helped to reduce previously high technology costs.”

Jonathan Hirst, the group managing director of Network Marketing, added: “Having run businesses in Leeds for 20 years, it never ceases to amaze me how much of a magnet for great talent the city is.

“We seem to be able to attract people from throughout the UK and with the recent development of Trinity (Leeds shopping centre) and the soon to arrive Victoria Gate, we have an even stronger proposition for offering great career opportunities, combined with a world leading city.”

Ajaz Ahmed, the president of the Yorkshire Asian Business Association and the founder of Freeserve and Legal365, added: “Leeds has some great universities and big legal, finance, health and technology sectors. So let’s start telling the rest of the country about this.”

Tom Riordan, the chief executive of Leeds City Council, said that Leeds is the place to be for growing businesses, with access to tens of thousands of graduates, affordable and flexible rents and a great city life.

He added: “With more homes, cultural, technology and retail attractions coming on stream, and the Yorkshire Dales on our doorstep, the city has a bright future that more and more businesses want to be part of.”

Tom Bridges, the city council’s chief economic development officer, said: “We have a diverse economy, with strengths in different sectors.”

It is in the UK’s self-interest to help “scale-up” companies overcome their challenges, according to Sherry Coutu, the investor behind the scale-up report.

Writing in November last year, she said: “The UK economy may be growing faster than any other G8 nation, but recent data shows that we lag behind the US and other leading economies in the extent to which our companies scale..Our promising companies struggle to grow domestically and expand internationally and are taken over by larger - often foreign - firms at a significant discount to their potential.”

However, the latest scale-up report shows that Leeds has a strong reputation as a base for firms that want to grow quickly. It is attracting interest from outside the region.

Stuart Clarke, an entrepreneur who works with early stage firms, said that Leeds was being seen as a credible alternative to London by many start-ups.

Chris Shaw, a former commercial lawyer who provides advice with business development, said Leeds “had a supportive council, good infrastructure and transport links and plenty of new-build real estate.”