‘Leeds is very much open for business post-Brexit vote’

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The Government’s Northern Powerhouse vision might have gone on the back burner post referendum - but Leeds is still very much open for business.

So says Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake in the wake of Brexit.

Councillor Judith Blake.  PIcture: James Hardisty

Councillor Judith Blake. PIcture: James Hardisty

Asked if the Conservative Government’s post-referendum problems meant the end of chancellor George Osborne’s much-hyped Northern Powerhouse and regional devolution plans, she said: “It might be.”

But she added: “We are obviously going to have to pull together all the partners who have been part of putting the devolution deal together and press on.

“It’s very clear to me that one of the elements in the vote to leave was the disillusionment and dissatisfaction with a remote national political elite, and decisions being made in London that have a profound effect on places like Leeds and the North as a whole.

“And I think this reaffirms our determination to get more resources and more powers.”

Coun Blake has called for an urgent meeting with business leaders in the city to set down a clear post Brexit plan - and reassure major stakeholders and the public.

“Together we want to make it clear that Leeds remains open for business,” she said.

“We will be working actively with Government to secure commitment to the many major schemes we are working on at the moment.”

Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s monthly full council meeting, she stressed the city and the region is “recognised as an area on a global scale now”, and its pre-existing ties with other countries would help in the long term, regardless of the referendum result.

“Leeds has established far reaching partnerships across the world,” she said, “We will continue to work together so the many European and other foreign owned businesses that have helped drive the success of our city are supported to continue to invest, to ensure the many thousands of jobs created here by them are protected.”

Asked what Leeds stood to lose economically from the UK leaving the EU, she said it was “too early to say what exactly the implications will be because the funding comes in through such a variety of streams”.

But she expressed particular concern about “millions of pounds” in University research grants which are funded by European money.

“We are in a whole new territory now and we have to respond accordingly,” she said.

“Whatever happens, the relationships between the areas of the North are really important, and we must make sure that we weather any of the shocks that continue to come from this.”

“Leeds is a very resilient city. We have faced similar challenges before and we have the ability to come together and make sure that we do our best, particularly to protect jobs and the most vulnerable.”