Bradford is the ‘most improved’ place in the UK

Bradford City Park

By Dave Baldwin

A record reduction in unemployment and significant growth in skills have helped Bradford to claim the title of Britain’s most improved city in an influential annual report on economic wellbeing.

The nationwide study, Good Growth for Cities 2019 by think tank Demos and accountancy firm PwC, measures the performance of 42 of the UK’s largest cities against a range of 10 priorities including jobs, health, income, skills, work-life balance, housing affordability, travel-to-work times, income equality, environment and business start-ups. 

For the fourth year running, Oxford and Reading have been named the top-performing cities, followed by Southampton in third place. But Bradford emerged as this year’s top improver, driven by jobs, work-life balance and skills among those aged 25 and over.

The Demos-PwC report singled out Bradford for the largest improvement in the jobs score of any city in the UK between 2015 and 2018 with unemployment falling from 10 per cent to 4.1 per cent over the period. It also showed how more than 43 per cent of adults held at least an NVQ level 3 qualification in 2018, compared to 39 per cent in 2015.

Despite the standout jobs performance, challenges remain in Bradford. The report identified how incomes in general and skills among 16-24 year-olds fell over the period. But it pointed out that improvements in these two variables could see the city move further up the index in coming years.

Ben Glover, senior researcher at Demos, said: “Our research shows we have a positive story to tell about our cities: three-quarters have experienced an improvement in their index score this year. We are delighted to see the great city of Bradford crowned this year’s top improver, largely due to an impressive fall in its unemployment rate.

“But in Bradford and beyond, city leaders cannot afford to rest on their laurels. Our research finds declining scores for housing affordability, home ownership and health. Failure to tackle these issues will act as a real constraint on these cities in the future.

“This will require local policymakers to find new ways of putting local people at the heart of decision making, recognising they don’t have all the answers themselves. Only then will the power of our communities be harnessed, allowing our cities to reach their full potential.”

Every city in the UK faces challenges, wherever they are in their arc of development. In the study, higher performing places demonstrated declines in housing affordability and owner occupation – described as the “price of success” – while lower performing cities saw falls in health, work-life balance and transport scores.

Still, the Demos-PwC report made brilliant headlines for Bradford and provided further evidence for those outside the district we are bouncing back to the big league after some difficult years. Dr Zulficar Ali, of the Sweet Centre, told the BBC that while the textile mills have largely gone, a new breed of entrepreneur is now emerging in the city. (Indeed, there were 4,127 new start-ups in Bradford in 2018.)

“The changes have uplifted the city hugely. It’s a vibrant city, a cultural capital. It’s a great place to live and work and there’s such a great potential,” added Dr Ali, whose famous Manningham restaurant was founded by his family in 1964.

The Guardian pitched in with a guide of the best things to see and do in Bradford, including visits to the Prashad, Karachi and Waterside Bistro restaurants, Bradford Literature Festival, National Science and Media Museum, The Brick Box, Haworth, Saltaire, Salts Mill, North Parade, Common Wealth Theatre, The 1 In 12 Club, Fuse Art Galley, South Square and Kirkgate Centre.

Catherine Riley, manager of the Kirkgate Shopping Centre and a member of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce 2019 leadership group, told the BBC: “Our UK Capital of Culture bid in 2025 is coming and will improve the perception of the city. There’s a growing feel-good factor.”

There certainly is. We are delighted that the underlying social and economic progress has been highlighted in the Demos-PwC report. It follows big votes of confidence in our district from the likes of NEC, Channel 4 and PwC itself, which opened a new assurance centre in Bradford earlier this year. We want everybody in the city to have the chance to succeed, whatever their background. We don’t want anybody to be left behind as our district rises up the rankings.

Bradford Businesses Successful in Community Business Challenge

Five community businesses in Bradford have each been awarded £10,000 in the M&S Community Business Challenge. The successful businesses are:

  • Bread + Roses
  • The Thornbury Centre
  • Margaret Magdalene CIC
  • Friends of Silsden Town Hall
  • Queensbury Celtic Football Club

This business support programme is a partnership between M&S and Power to Change and PWC.

All five businesses received £10,000, an offer of business advice from M&S and an opportunity to join PwC’s social entrepreneur club, which offers:

  • a business strategy
  • strategic business advice
  • advice on how to continue to grow
  • advice on how to create efficiencies

Congratulations to the five successful businesses. We look forward to seeing them develop through this support from M&S and Power to Change.

Bradford businesses supporting the circular economy

Circular Yorkshire

By Dave Baldwin

She dreamed of being sailor as a young girl and saved her school lunch money to buy her first boat. Dame Ellen MacArthur made sailing history in 2005 when she set the solo speed record for circumnavigating the world. During the 71-day, 27,000-mile voyage, the yachtswoman experienced a powerful realisation, one that would change the course of her life.

In an interview with The Guardian, she recalled: “I remember quite poignantly writing in the log on the boat; ‘What I have got on the boat is everything’. It really struck me that you save everything, everything you have, because you know it’s finite, you know there isn’t any more. What you have on that boat is it, your entire world.”

Dame Ellen added: “The basis of my thinking was completely around resources. It was around the pure fact – stemming from what I had learned on the boat – that resources are finite. The more I learned, I just saw this as the greatest challenge I had ever come across. If we are using these resources in a very linear fashion we are going to use them up at some stage, and no one knows exactly when.”

With this acute awareness of the limitations of the widespread linear approach to resources, she launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to develop a sustainable alternative known as the circular economy, based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems.

The University of Bradford has worked closely with Dame Ellen since the launch of her foundation nearly a decade ago. The foundation helps businesses and organisations to accelerate the transition to a more regenerative economic model and has published a series of seminal studies on the business case for the circular economy, winning accolades from the World Economic Forum and helping to shape government policy.

In partnership with the foundation and businesses including B&Q, BT, Cisco, Renault and National Grid, the university introduced the world’s first circular economy MBA in 2011, equipping students and their sponsoring bodies with the skills to use resources and energy more effectively, reuse products and materials and deliver increased profits. The foundation recognised Bradford’s world-leading expertise in the field with Pioneer University status, a big deal for the institution and our region.

November is Circular Yorkshire month, a new campaign to increase understanding of circular economy principles and business benefits. With Bradford’s extensive knowledge and experience of this new economic model, we are proud to support the initiative. Find out more by searching for #CircularYorkshire online.

Our business community leads the way in many areas of environmental performance, according to the latest Leeds City Region Business Survey. The survey of 2,000-plus companies across the region revealed that Bradford businesses are more likely to operate schemes to save energy, water and waste. They will tend to use environmentally friendly technologies and have formal environmental accreditations. And they will probably have taken action to clean up their supply chains. Economists say businesses undertaking at least one of these actions are more likely to report stronger growth in turnover and employment. A win-win, in other words.

Given the strength of the advanced manufacturing sector in Bradford, I am not surprised at our strong showing in this survey. Manufacturers are resourceful by nature and typically have a global outlook. They also have a business imperative; a growing number of their OEM customers have mandated environmentally friendly practices in supply chains, largely driven by regulatory and consumer demands. 

One of Bradford’s largest private employers, Yorkshire Water, sees Bradford as ideal for its circular economy developments. Liz Barber, Yorkshire Water CEO, said: “The masterplan for our 32-acre site at Esholt should see it become a real beacon for sustainable development. It will retain the existing treatment works which already generates much of its own power and other developments will bring in sustainable housing and new industries which can also make use of the heat and grey water generated from the works.” This column turns full circle and returns to Dame Ellen for the close. This inspirational woman has strong links with Bradford. Her mother and grandmother were born in the city, which virtually makes her one of our own. We are enormously proud of the work she is doing and urge businesses to embrace the principles of the circular economy if they have not already done so. The circular economy supports economic growth, builds community resilience and addresses climate change, three of the most important challenges of our time.

Bradford is the most improved city to live and work

Bradford City Park

Bradford has been named as the most improved city in a nationwide study of the best places to live and work in the UK.

Bradford’s standing as this year’s top improver is driven by jobs, work-life balance and skills amongst its 25+ year olds.

Bradford has experienced a large reduction in its unemployment rate, measured at 4.1% in 2018 compared to 10% in 2015. The city also demonstrated moderate improvements in work-life balance, health, environment and skills amongst the adult population.

Bradford Council Chief Executive Kersten England said:

“We are delighted to be rated as the most improved city in this year’s Good Growth Index. This is in part is recognition of our employment growth and the great quality of life in the district.

“This has come during a great year where there are many positives to point to – from great national businesses investing in the district such as the NEC and Channel 4 to our strong local businesses such as the growing EXA Networks in the IT sector and expanding high-tech engineering businesses such as Global Precision Engineering in Keighley.

“The district has recently been rated by Barclays as the best city to start a business in the UK and we have welcomed the creation of over two thousand businesses in the first nine months of 2019.

“We know there is more to do and we are looking forward to building on this success.”

The annual Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities 2019 sets out to show there’s more to economic well-being than just measuring GDP. The index measures the performance of 42 of the UK’s largest cities, England’s Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and ten Combined Authorities, against a basket of ten factors which the public think are most important when it comes to economic well being. These include jobs, health, income and skills, as well as work-life balance, house-affordability, travel-to-work times, income equality, environment and business start-ups.

Bradford businesses giving opportunities to young people

Bradford Manufacturing Week

By Dave Baldwin

Lenworth George Henry didn’t seem destined for greatness. One of seven children from a Jamaican family in Dudley, he failed his 11-plus exam, went to the local secondary school and left at 16 with no qualifications. But he did have a science teacher, Mr Brookes, who encouraged his comedy ambitions by letting him use a reel-to-reel recorder to rehearse funny voices.

Now 61, Sir Lenny Henry is a much-loved comedian, actor, writer and bona fide national treasure. This month he visited Bradford as part of his book tour, Who Am I, Again? His show at the newly refurbished St George’s Hall promised funny and sad stories from growing up in the Black Country, covering school, friendship, family secrets and unashamed racism.

But without the encouragement of that kindly teacher, who knows how his life would have turned out. It is so important that children get the chance to follow their interests and discover their talents. In every classroom I believe there is potential greatness, just waiting to be unlocked.

It’s not just teachers and parents who hold the key. The old proverb reminds us it takes a whole village to raise a child, meaning that an entire community of people must interact with children for them to grow into well-adjusted adults. In Bradford, we are lucky to have a strong business community with a powerful sense of social responsibility.

This comes to the fore in the Bradford Manufacturing Weeks, delivered by Bradford Chamber of Commerce and backed by the Bradford Economic Partnership. This year’s initiative is on track to create 6,000 work experiences with 65 manufacturers involved, double the number of 2018’s inaugural programme.

Employers including Solenis, Acorn Stairlifts, Produmax, Keighley Laboratories and Melrose Interiors are organising work placements, school talks and site tours for 14-18-year-old school pupils. As well as helping boost apprenticeship numbers, these can also give young people a glimpse of the inspiring, innovative and rewarding enterprises creating wealth and prosperity across our district.

An estimated 45 secondary schools took part in this year’s scheme, which has won national praise. Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson said: “Following on from last year’s success, I know Bradford Manufacturing Weeks can go from strength to strength, with more businesses and young people involved.

“In my speech to Conservative Party conference, I said how apprenticeships and technical and vocational education are just as important and as valuable as going to university and are just as important to our economy. They can make sure Britain succeeds in the future.

“And it is excellent projects like this that can show young people some of the exciting and valuable opportunities there and give them the belief that with the right help and support they can achieve anything they want.”

Mr Williamson, a social sciences graduate of Bradford University, knows the importance of the state education system; he is the product of a Scarborough comprehensive school and is married to a former primary teacher.

Nick Garthwaite, managing director of Bradford-based laundry detergent manufacturer Christeyns, is the founder of Bradford Manufacturing Weeks. He said: “It’s fantastic to receive support from the Government which further demonstrates that we are on absolutely the right track with our initiative. We have created a model that is working and most importantly, a model which gives young people an insight into the wonderful world of manufacturing and in many cases, it is proving a game changer in their career decision-making process.”

Mr Garthwaite added: “That said, businesses, education providers and the Government have a lot more work to do to promote the apprenticeship programmes to make them become an even more attractive option. This is why Bradford Manufacturing Weeks is such an important part of our district’s business calendar and why we intend to grow the participants, the experiences and the momentum in years to come.”

Every pupil should be able to have meaningful encounters with employers in Bradford. We know this will dramatically increase their chances of success in the workplace. At a deeper level, simply encouraging young people to follow their interests and discover their talents can be incredibly powerful. As Sir Lenny says, “we all bloom towards the sunlight”.