‘West Yorkshire Combined Authority is in public interest and does offer value’

Ben Still, West Yorkshire Combined Authority
Ben Still, West Yorkshire Combined Authority
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THE Yorkshire Post campaigns for a bright future for this region where better transport links, higher skill levels and increased international investment contribute to more families in the Leeds City Region enjoying a much higher standard of living.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority shares that positive outlook and is taking the lead on turning that vision into reality.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority is integral to the future of cities like Leeds.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority is integral to the future of cities like Leeds.

Related article: Cash-strapped West Yorkshire Combined Authority faces inquiry into lavish spending

Given we are a relatively new organisation, it is worth explaining the Combined Authority’s role. It comprises cross-party political leadership from the five West Yorkshire councils and City of York. It sits alongside the Local Enterprise Partnership (or LEP), which brings together political and business leaders. Combined Authority officers, such as me, inform these boards and implement their decisions.

Our focus is growing the economy faster and doing so for the benefit of all. From world-leading university research to exciting innovation in the digital and manufacturing sectors, many great things are already happening here. But as this newspaper has documented, the Leeds City Region also faces longstanding economic challenges with roots that stretch back decades.

Like The Yorkshire Post, we want to see more companies move into Yorkshire and the city region. To do this we have to take our message to a global audience, engaging with employers and investors at carefully targeted international events to draw attention to the tremendous opportunities on offer here.

We do this in partnership with a growing number of private sector companies, who sponsor much of our activity. A report from the Department for International Trade vindicates our approach, showing that Leeds City Region’s levels of investment has increased by over a fifth, securing 100 overseas investments and creating and safeguarding at least 3,000 jobs.

Like The Yorkshire Post, we want to see Government allocate more money to the region on transport and economic projects. The Government’s confidence in our plans to create 35,700 jobs over and above those already forecast, and add £3.7bn to the region’s economic output by 2036, has been reflected in the securing of a £1bn growth deal, the biggest of any LEP area, standing alongside our £1bn transport fund.

Securing and turning those sums of money into results on the ground takes time but Leeds City Region residents are seeing the product of our work through a wide range of projects including new railway stations, the recently completed Wakefield Eastern Relief Road, investment in better further education college facilities, funding insulation into homes, our contribution to improved flood defences and commercial site development. The excellence of our work delivering major transport projects, including the new rail stations at Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge and the Bradford-to-Leeds Cycle Superhighway, was recently recognised at the North of England Transport Awards.

It is on transformative schemes such as these upon which the majority of the money spent by the authority goes, and the decisions which trigger that spending are taken by elected members at CA and LEP meetings regularly attended by the media and public. We place strong emphasis on being transparent and accountable, but we know we have more to do in this regard to better communicate all that is going on.

And we need highly skilled people to ensure the way those multi-million pound projects are commissioned and delivered secures the best possible outcomes and value for money.

Doing more of this vital work, and accelerating the pace of change, involves continuing to make the case for the economic potential of the Leeds City Region to a range of audiences. We made representations that informed the Government’s development of its Industrial Strategy which, in turn, supported our case for the continued funding of Growth Hubs, support for care sector innovation and action on retraining to provide people with the skills for the economy of the future. Our #4Sparks campaign, to make this region the new home for Channel 4, is another example of the work we are doing.

We recognise intently the need to be careful with public money and we have been working hard to ensure our own organisation is up to the task. The Combined Authority was formed from three other bodies (Metro, the LEP team, and the Leeds and Partners company) in 2014.

Since I started last February, we have completely restructured, corrected processes which are no longer fit for purpose and instilled a renewed culture of accountability and performance focused on results and transparency. This is underlined by the volume of information we have published online and our extensive engagement with The Yorkshire Post. There is further to go to build an efficient and high performing organisation.

Finally, it is important to say that the Combined Authority and the LEP are partnership bodies. We can only deliver by working closely with business, colleges and councils. Collectively, we are making a real difference to this region and our plans will see those benefits more widely felt in the years to come. I am pleased with the start we have made, and excited about what is to come.