There’s an assumption that because Yorkshire was falling behind in terms of productivity after the last recession in 2008, it will have still further to go to catch-up now.
But we need to start thinking about a bigger picture, where a healthy society isn’t measured in narrow economic and financial terms.
The character and qualities of Yorkshire and its cities mean we have every reason to be optimistic about both making a strong recovery, and using its talents and energies as the start of a new chapter of growth.
One of those strengths is the number of family businesses. In a time of economic shocks, families have built-in resilience and motivation, family members pull together and are able to share perspectives, resources and adapt to overcome obstacles.
They don’t make so many decisions that are based purely on financial forecasts, they’re based around loyalty and longevity.
By getting the right kinds of support to help family owner/managers to adapt and grow, we have a massive resource of business growth and new job creation potential.
The county’s cities are young, growing and entrepreneurial. Almost a third of Bradford’s population is under 30, for example: young people with a thirst to be part of new areas of enterprise and technology, and the potential for many decades to come as employees and entrepreneurs, who can be active contributors, consumers and members of communities.
Community spirit and identity will keep on being important in the coming years. Rather than temporary flashes of togetherness caused by Covid-19 that’s been seen around the UK, Yorkshire has stronger, more established bonds to build on.
But making recovery and change happen requires organisation and action.
Bradford’s Economic Recovery Board is an example of concerted effort, bringing together public, private and cultural sectors and work closely with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.
The Board has been set up to help businesses of all sizes adapt to the post-pandemic environment, to re-evaluate the district’s economic strategy in light of the pandemic and develop practical plans to help businesses grow, retrain unemployed people and attract investment in infrastructure.
Progress on devolution for West Yorkshire and Sheffield will help. By May 2021, West Yorkshire is expected to have its first mayor with their own local decision-making powers and funding to address the particular issues around transport, adult education and skills, housing and development. People who know the area best will be able to channel attention to the most important levers for recovery.
The region’s universities and further education providers need to take the lead in respect of championing the skills agenda and, to become the engine for moving forward on all of these new imperatives: upskilling, business development and growth.
The Yorkshire Universities body, a network of 12 HE institutions, represents some of the region’s biggest employers, contributing £2.9bn each year to the region’s economy and spending around £250m among local suppliers each year.
With all their local presence in communities and their positioning around the civic university agenda, their webs of connections with businesses, students and alumni, universities can have huge potential influence as a driver for change, in highlighting opportunities, creating collaborations, generating more action.
But they will need to continue to open themselves up, offer more community access to facilities, shift from traditional forms of academic provision to meeting more real-world needs, listen to businesses, provide vocational, flexible offerings and micro-courses.
Planning for recovery, and taking action now will mean a virtuous circle of new energy, optimism and opportunities. But it’s something that will need to involve the entire population, learning skills as students and adult learners; releasing all our potential, as key workers, paying taxes as employees, creating jobs as entrepreneurs or continuing to spend money and support their local shops and businesses.
Professor Zahir Irani is Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bradford and Chair of the Bradford Economic CV-19 Recovery Board.
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