Like the majority of successful people, Will Richardson never questioned the idea when growing up that one day he would find a job and go out to work, just like his parents did. The son of a newsagent and school teacher from North Yorkshire left school at 16 with reasonable O-level qualifications. After a false start at a supermarket management training scheme, Will returned to education, graduated from polytechnic and by chance came across PwC at a careers fair.
Today, he is senior partner at PwC in Leeds and a board member at Bradford Opportunity Area, a Government-backed initiative to improve opportunities for young people through education. When he was starting out, the expectation that he would get a job was always a given. For many young people in Bradford, and indeed many towns and cities across the UK, this expectation, never mind this aspiration, does not exist.
The Opportunity Area programme is designed to unlock the potential of our district’s young people through strong partnership work between local government, employers, the voluntary sector, academic researchers, nurseries, schools and colleges. Launched in 2017, the programme aims to strengthen school leadership and the quality of teaching, improve literacy in primary schools, particularly among disadvantaged pupils, improve access to rewarding careers and use evidence and research to remove barriers to learning, such as health issues. It recognises that while Bradford has much to offer its children and young people, the district ranks less well on social mobility and educational attainment levels.
We all welcome the perspective that an outsider brings to a business situation and in this case, Will’s experience of Bradford through the Opportunity Area programme opened his eyes to the potential that exists in our district. At the same time, PwC was looking at its operating model as a professional services group. One of the partners was leading the transformation of the assurance business. She was considering the possibility of a national assurance centre, which could be located in the UK. Will met the partner over coffee and made the case for Bradford as the perfect location. She agreed and together they successfully pitched the idea to PwC’s UK board and chairman, Kevin Ellis.
That was a year ago. In the meantime, the firm found a site, 5 Godwin Street, and agreed a deal for more than 9,000 sq ft of office space. The centre formally opens next month (April). PwC has recruited 60 Bradfordians to date and plans to take headcount to 225 and possibly more. It is providing full training and is taking an open-minded approach to recruitment including school leavers, young people leaving college and university and those in later life looking for a change in career.
Will has said the new assurance centre is one of PwC’s key priorities in delivering a best-in-class proposition as one of the world’s leading professional services firms. Recruits will gain great experience working with a wide range of national clients from innovative SMEs to large corporations. I believe this can provide a life-changing experience for many of the new employees and their families. They will be able to taste success and unleash their ambition.
As well as the prime career opportunities promised by the new office, let’s not underestimate the PR benefits of a global firm like PwC choosing Bradford for its new assurance centre. This sends out a strong message to other national and international decision makers that this is a district with a positive, exciting and successful future. Human nature dictates they will want a part of that as well.
In its own way, this is just as important as Channel 4’s decision to choose Leeds for its new national headquarters. It is symbolic. It says to young people in the district and wider city region that there are opportunities for the taking. More investors will follow, attracted by our young and enterprising population, growth potential, globally connected district and distinctive offer. One day, every child growing up in our district can expect to achieve great things, whatever their background. For me, that’s what it’s all about.
• Dave Baldwin is chairman of the Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club