Kersten England: Bradford is young, diverse. ambitious and ready for the future

Kersten England is chief executive of Bradford Council.
Kersten England is chief executive of Bradford Council.
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TODAY sees the launch of Bradford’s ambitious Economic Strategy, which seeks to make the district the UK’s fastest growing local economy and increase local growth by £4bn within a decade.

This is an exciting time for Bradford, which over recent years has been subject to increased focus from employers, investors and developers, as businesses appreciate the great potential of the city and the wider district.

City Park in the heart of Bradford.

City Park in the heart of Bradford.

The new strategy highlights three key assets that we feel really set Bradford apart. Firstly, and most importantly, our people. We have the highest number of young people per capita of any UK city, and our diverse and growing population is increasingly entrepreneurial.

With the University of Bradford and Bradford College at the heart of the city, we’re well placed to develop the business leaders and owners of the future. This was recently recognised by the Government designating Bradford as an Opportunity Area, which will see more than £11m invested to improve social mobility.

The diversity of our people already brings Bradford fantastic benefits – we only need to look at the Bradford Literature Festival, where the richness 
of our communities inspires events 
that bring guests to Bradford from 
across the world, providing an opportunity to showcase Yorkshire 
to a world-wide audience.

Our second asset is our businesses. We have almost 16,000 of them in Bradford, which was recently named the best place in the UK to start a business by Barclays SME Growth Factors Index.

With innovative businesses ranging from Keighley Laboratories, a globally renowned supplier to the aerospace industry, to the groundbreaking work of Saltaire-based research firm Advanced Digital Institute, we’re home to some of the UK’s fastest growing companies and have the most productive businesses of any city in the Northern Powerhouse.

Last, but certainly not least of our three strategic assets, is the quality of the cities, towns, villages and countryside that makes Bradford a great place to live, work and play.

Our offer to visitors encompasses places as diverse as Brontë Country, the world heritage site of Saltaire, and Bradford itself, the world’s first UNESCO City of Film. From the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales to some of Britain’s best Victorian architecture, is there a more diverse district in the UK?

Our new economic strategy aims to build on these strengths and unlock Bradford’s growth potential. Bradford has a lot going for it, but we know we need to do more to promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

As the UK’s most youthful city, we will ensure our young people are equipped with the skills and confidence they need to succeed, whether that’s through apprenticeships, technical training, or a university education.

This means close collaboration between schools, colleges and businesses, through schemes such as Bradford Pathways, which will support young people and adults through training and into the jobs of the future.

This collaboration builds on the great work currently being undertaken in the district, through the Bradford Education Covenant, where the council and businesses are already working together to improve educational outcomes for all young people in the district.

Through our Economic Strategy we want to see 20,000 more people in work across the district by 2030, and train 48,000 more people up to NVQ3 level qualifications and beyond.

We’ll also make the most of our heritage, landscape and built environment. Tourism is hugely important to Bradford’s economy, with around 11.6 million day trips made to 
the district in 2016, supporting over 13,500 jobs.

However, we’re also increasingly focused on creating outstanding spaces to attract and develop businesses. New Grade A office space at One City Park will sit alongside the converted mills of Little Germany. Together with this, work is underway to create a Business Improvement District which will complement the existing BID in Keighley.

In the longer term, it’s vital that Bradford secures a city centre, high-speed rail station as part of the Northern Powerhouse Rail project. Currently, it takes over 20 minutes to make the short journey by rail to Leeds, and almost an hour to Manchester.

A city centre Northern Powerhouse Rail link would bring the Leeds route down to just seven minutes, as well as connecting with the new HS2 line to London. This will ensure Bradford remains attractive to businesses and investors as the Northern Powerhouse project drives forward, and help residents access a broader range of jobs and training opportunities.

Bradford is a pioneering, confident and connected city, ready for the opportunities of the future. We have the foundations – the people, the places and the businesses – and with this strategy we will build on these, to deliver significant economic growth and prosperity that will be shared by everyone across our district.

Kersten England is chief executive of Bradford Council.