Andy Wood: Sharing ideas for Leeds city region that work for all

The opening of Victoria Gate signals an upturn in the fortunes of Leeds.The opening of Victoria Gate signals an upturn in the fortunes of Leeds.
The opening of Victoria Gate signals an upturn in the fortunes of Leeds.
EVERY success begins as an idea. But a great idea alone doesn't always equate to success. For an idea to thrive it requires action. And more often than not, it's collaborative action that truly brings an idea to life.

In Leeds and across the wider city region, we’re lucky to have some of the most dynamic thinkers, creative doers and inspiring businesses in the UK calling this area their home. That’s one of the reasons why Leeds is one of the UK’s fastest-growing cities.

From the £165m investment into the recently opened Victoria Gate shopping centre, which has transformed a once forgotten area and catapulted five-year investment figures in the city region to £1bn, to the game-changing vision for the South Bank, billed as one of the most exciting regeneration projects in Europe, we’re on the brink of something truly remarkable. Add to this a bold and ambitious European Capital of Culture bid for 2023, an approved further £64m of local growth funding and a visionary city council, and there’s no denying that Leeds is an exciting, thriving place to be.

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On the surface of it, our diverse range of organisations spanning the private, public and third sectors all offer further significant growth opportunities to add to this positive dynamic. But are we actually realising what these opportunities hold as a collective city region? Are we working together to ensure that the region is reaching its full potential – especially in the context of Brexit – and capturing the right attention on the national and international stage?

The Vibrant Economy Index, a new piece of research from Grant Thornton, shows that there are many positive things about the Leeds City Region, but also suggests that we still have a way to go.

The research is based on 52 indicators of performance, tracking the factors that enable businesses, communities and individuals to thrive. The index measures how towns and cities in England compare on a range of factors from prosperity to health, wellbeing and happiness, inclusion and equality. The good news is not surprising at all: the Leeds city region scores highly for economic prosperity, dynamism and opportunity. This means that it is producing wealth, jobs and also developing an entrepreneurial and innovative culture for future growth.

However, the index also reveals that Leeds scores below the national average in the inclusion and equality indicator, with unemployment inequality based on ethnicity at the second highest level in the city region. Leeds also has the highest level of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETS). We could be missing out on some of the region’s talent simply because we’re failing to connect with them.

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In the face of this, we must make Leeds and the wider city region a place where all sectors connect to create inclusive growth.

How do we do it? There are many brilliant initiatives happening every day, and thousands of ideas being generated. What we need to do is bring everything, everyone and every idea together. This is what we, along with 300 other leaders, will seek to do at Grant Thornton’s Live Lab event on Tuesday, January 31.

It’s been inspiring to see the record levels of sign-up for the one-day summit which will be held at the Royal Armouries. Business leaders, creative brains, community and education representatives, charities, and representatives of the public sector, including Leeds Council chief executive Tom Riordan, have all committed to a sleeves rolled-up day of innovation, inquiry and transformation.

We’ll be using an ‘appreciative inquiry’ methodology, a US import which engages stakeholders in ‘self-determined’ change to generate fresh ideas and models for success. Essentially, we’ll all be taking a step outside of the norm to come together and reflect on the region’s strengths, share our ideas and collaboratively 
create an exciting, connected and 
vibrant future for us all.

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And we’ve seen this work before. The Leeds Live Lab is the latest stage in Grant Thornton’s ongoing drive to shape a vibrant economy in the UK and follows the success of a series of similar events held across the country in 2016.

Our own successful future will begin as a series of ideas. We all need to work together to make our home a place where everyone – public, private and third sectors – connects to create inclusive growth to play a key part in a vibrant national economy and ensure opportunity for everyone.

Andy Wood is managing partner of Grant Thornton Yorkshire.