Yorkshire businesses aim to take lead in new partnerships

BUSINESS leaders were meeting on Saturday to discuss plans for a powerful new organisation to represent Yorkshire's interests in Britain and overseas.

Representatives from various Yorkshire chambers, the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses, the EEF manufacturers' organisation and a vice chancellor from one of Yorkshire's universities will attend the meeting at Rudding Park.

The gathering has been called by business leaders although it will be addressed at the outset by Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon Julian Smith.

The coalition government is abolishing regional development agencies (RDAs), including Yorkshire Forward, and has set out guidelines for setting up Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) as a replacement.

They will be run by a board with equal representation from businesses and councils, with Ministers saying they should be chaired by a "prominent" business leader.

They are expected to focus on small business start-ups, and work closely with universities and further education colleges.

It is thought that up to 40 could be created in Yorkshire alone.

In an article for the Yorkshire Post last week, Mr Smith set out his vision for a Yorkshire-wide organisation run by business leaders that would be accountable to the private sector and local authorities.

Mr Smith said last night: "I am pleased there seems to be some consensus building that we need a strong voice for Yorkshire.

"While things are being devolved it seems positive that business particularly is wanting something that's broader than just the local enterprise partnerships (LEPs). At Westminster I will strongly promote the need to have a really powerful Yorkshire focus and voice.

"I agree absolutely with the Government policy of getting rid of the regional tier but I think it's good that people are talking about what are the next steps."

Without a strong lobbying voice in London, Europe and further afield, there is a fear among some members of the business community that Yorkshire could lose out on future investment opportunities.

In his article, Mr Smith said a Yorkshire-wide organisation could take responsibility for large-scale economic development such as tourism, hi-tech and green investment without any of the unwieldly bureaucracy of a regional development agency.

On a visit to Leeds yesterday, a Government minister said RDAs had failed and a "new model" was now required.

Financial secretary to the Treasury Mark Hoban said: "What we've seen over the last 13 years is many billions of pounds being spent through RDAs, yet the gap between the North and the greater South-East actually widened.

"For every one job created in the North, 10 jobs have been created in the private sector in London and the South-East. We've got to question how effective (RDAs) have been. And is there an opportunity for a new model to really drive growth forward?"

He said: "If businesses and local authorities in Yorkshire decide they want a single LEP covering the whole of Yorkshire, then they can make that bid.

"What we should avoid is dictating these things from Whitehall. I want people in Yorkshire to decide, I want businesses in Yorkshire to decide what's right for this area, rather than a minister sitting in Whitehall."