BUSINESS leaders have urged a three-pronged strategy to restore West Yorkshire’s economic fortunes in the wake of the recession.
Key figures from Kirklees, Bradford and Calderdale said support for manufacturing, skills development and continued public sector investment were key factors for rebuilding the region.
And members attending a round table discussion hosted by Yorkshire Bank also urged firms to take advantage of business support to help chart a path for growth.
Brian Duckett, managing director of textile firm Holmfirth Dyers, said: “The only way this country is going to get out of recession is by manufacturing.
“We have to encourage manufacturing, but the Government has withdrawn some of the financial help which means countries such as Germany are coming out of recession more quickly.”
Mr Duckett said industry was also stymied in its efforts to expand through lack of land – with former industrial sites, or brownfield sites, being taken up for housing.
“We have been looking for a site to build on for two years, but site owners are hanging on because they know they can get more if it goes for housing.”
Ken Gillespie, director of regeneration at Kirklees Council, said local authorities and agencies in the Leeds City Region – including Kirklees – had to “hang big together” to make the case for a fair share of resources from Government in the face of competing regions such as Manchester and London.
He said: “If we don’t make the case, we won’t get the investment we need in areas such as transport and housing for the next 10 to 15 years.”
Stressing the need to maintain public spending levels, he said the public sector must continue “doing its job” until the private sector had recovered sufficiently to make its contribution to investment and regeneration.
Peter Emsall, of Huddersfield University’s Business School, said more focus should also be put on creating a skilled workforce, adding: “We have the worst level of employment for 14 years, but simply growing part-time and temporary posts is never going to get us out of recession.”
He said: “Although countries such as China have been producing low-tech products, they have a massive thirst for knowledge. They want to change ‘Made in China’ to ‘Invented in China’.
“That can be seen by the fact that overseas students are an increasingly important part of the university’s business now.
“Companies like Apple and Google are making big money because they have knowledge workers. Building an innovative and creative workforce is one area we have the ability to do something.”
Mr Gillespie added: “Innovation in manufacturing – manufacturing at the edge – is where we can still succeed.”
Andy Davidson, of Yorkshire Bank’s Bradford financial solutions centre, said all the evidence pointed to a slow recovery from recession.
“A lot of Government investment in major projects has been brought forward because of the recession to kick-start the economy,” he said. “But there will be lower levels of public sector investment for the next few years.
“We are not big exporters as a nation and global markets remain depressed. The question is where will growth come from?”
James Farrar, of regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, said the focus should be on developing innovative manufacturing in areas such as advanced engineering and healthcare technology.
“There are some genuinely world class companies and management teams in our area,” he said. “But we have to make it easier for businesses to understand and access the help out there.”
Tim Foggin, of Government-funded support service Business Link, said: “A high percentage of companies continue to have a historic view of Business Link – that it’s just about getting grants.
“But Business Link is the place to come to for all manner of support – such as access to loans, finding low-cost property, help to tackle regulation or ways to make more of your website.
“Unless businesses come through the door, they won’t know what’s available to them.”