Bradford is one of the best places to do business

Bradford city skyline

By Dave Baldwin

Bradford, by virtue of a simple but salient metric of economic growth, is one of the best places for business in 2020, according to The Sunday Times. The newspaper’s reckoning comes courtesy of ‘gross value added per worker’, a measure of the value generated by any unit engaged in the production of goods and services. With a figure of £48,694, Bradford is 15th in the UK, ahead of places like Newcastle, Glasgow, Sheffield, Belfast and Nottingham. That’s quite an achievement.

The Centre for Cities think tank produced the analysis using the latest available numbers from the National Office for Statistics. The results appeared in a special supplement sponsored by KPMG. The report resonated with us because it represents yet more national recognition of the progress being made by our district, which is so important in changing perceptions of Bradford.

Euan West, who heads KPMG in Yorkshire, told us: “As an advisory firm born in the North and celebrating our 150th anniversary, we supported The Sunday Times’ Best Places for Business report because we wanted to shine a light on how much cities like Bradford offer as a home to commerce. The city earned its place in the report due to its economic vibrancy; its GVA per worker of almost £49,000 represents a rise of approximately a fifth in the last decade. And no wonder, with a youthful talent pool, regeneration of the city centre and beyond, a great position along the M62 corridor plus playing an important role in the wider Leeds City Region.”

The report highlighted our £10.1bn economy, our youthful population, one of the youngest in the UK, and our proud business history typified by the likes of the late Sir Ken Morrison, who transformed a small family business into a national grocery giant. This potential has seen businesses set up or move to Bradford and helped the district recover from the decline of the textiles industry, it said. Start-ups are attracted by low commercial rents, good road infrastructure and fast broadband: strong growth factors which led Barclays to name Bradford the best place in Britain to start a business.

It’s catching: the district gave birth to 4,185 new start-ups, including 166 new tech companies, in 2019, according to the Centre for Entrepreneurs. That’s an increase of 1.41 per cent on 2018. The Sunday Times singled out Incuto, the Ilkley-based fintech firm, Tarte and Berry, the Pudsey-based artisan baker, and Power Sheds, the Bradford-based online retailer, as ones to watch in the district.

Access to talent is everything for fast-growing businesses. The University of Bradford plays an important part in this respect. The report listed Professor Zahir Irani, pro-vice chancellor for academic innovation and quality, as an influencer in the district along with Kersten England CBE, chief executive of Bradford Council, and Ian Mann, CEO of cyber security firm ECSC. Prof Irani said: “The University of Bradford is playing a vital role in creating a skilled and educated workforce for the region.” Too right.

If anything, the university’s position will become more important in the coming years. As well as investing in new transport infrastructure, such as the High Speed North east-west rail line (and yes, we must have a city centre stop in Bradford), the Government wants to strengthen “innovation systems” to support the resurgence of the regions. A leading thinker in this field, Professor Richard Jones of Sheffield University, has argued that “public investments in new translational research facilities will attract private sector investment, bring together wider clusters of public and business research and development, institutions for skills development, and networks of expertise, boosting innovation and leading to productivity growth”. 

New capacity should be built in areas like health and social care, said Prof Jones, whose work has been cited in a blog by the Prime Minister’s chief advisor, a clear indicator of intent. This approach creates significant opportunities for Bradford. Under new Vice Chancellor Shirley Congdon, the university is backing opportunities in existing strengths including health and well-being, healthcare sciences, peace and international development, business, organisations and management, engineering, data science and technology.

Bradford is fighting its way back. The growth in productivity – rising by nearly a fifth of the last decade – is a great achievement considering the difficult circumstances after the financial crash and resulting austerity. This shows our spirit of enterprise is strong as is our will to succeed, whatever the challenges we might face. With the right backing, Bradford’s future looks bright.

The new Darley Street Market is another piece of Bradford’s jigsaw

Darley Street Market artist's impression

By Dave Baldwin

The people have spoken. They have chosen a name for the biggest project to date in the ongoing regeneration of Bradford city centre. The £21m market development will be called Darley Street Market. The simple but effective title was chosen by nearly half of respondents in a public survey launched late last year.

What’s in a name? First, it clearly signals the location for visitors to the city. And second, it draws on the heritage of Bradford’s historic high street, the location of markets for more than a century. The combination of location, heritage and investment are essential for any successful regeneration.

Cllr Alex Ross-Shaw, portfolio holder for regeneration, planning and transport at Bradford Council, said: “The markets have a special place for so many Bradford residents and therefore it was very important for us to consult with as many people across the Bradford district.

“We want residents to be involved in the new market project and what better way than to decide on the name for the new market. Darley Street Market was the overwhelming favourite as people made clear they wanted a name that was direct, celebrated the heritage of the street and gave a clear indication as to its location.

“We are fully committed to delivering the extensive reconstruction of the markets offer in the city centre and this is another step in creating a space that not only offers an innovative shopping experience, but also a place that the local community feels belongs to them.”

The project will burst into life this spring. The destruction of several vacant stores will make space for the creation of a beautiful new multi-storey market building. Large windows will bathe the interiors with natural light, multiple entrances will welcome shoppers and a public square will connect Piccadilly and Darley Street and provide a place for open air events and outdoor stalls. Filled with food, fashion and other fare from every corner of the world, it will be irresistible.

The council has appointed Kier as its preferred bidder for the development. Phil McDowell, operations director at Kier Regional Building Northern, said: “This vital regeneration project is the largest to be undertaken in Bradford and will provide a dynamic, vibrant and diverse shopping location for visitors. We’re thrilled to be appointed as preferred bidder to work with Bradford Council and are committed to delivering a project that benefits the community.”

Darley Street Market will be split across three floors, each with their own special identity and environment. The lower ground floor will focus on dry foods within a vaulted structure intended to be warm and intimate. The upper ground floor will house the main fresh food stalls. The first floor will host a world food court with communal seating areas.

It’s going to be great. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes the byword for market developments in Britain in the same way the award-winning City Park has established itself as one of the best examples of reimagined public spaces in the 21st century.

The entire city centre will be transformed this decade as developers commit to the district. In the One City Park project, Muse will create a state-of-the-art and environmentally excellent building with 56,403 sq ft of Grade A space. At Forster Square, Morgan Sindall will carry out a £17m redevelopment of the railway station with improved facilities, public spaces and better access to city centre for the benefit of commuters, shoppers and visitors. In the area around the Top of Town, a city village of 1,000 new homes and spaces for business is planned.

All this adds up to something significant. This is what happens when you get everyone’s noses pointing in the same direction. Investment, jobs and growth will follow. The people are getting behind it, as demonstrated by the 1,200 individual responses to the survey on public markets. This is a renewal of pride and ambition.

The Sunday Times hails Bradford as one of the best places to do business

Bradford city skyline

Bradford has been named by The Sunday Times as one of the 20 best places for doing business in the UK.

The city came in 15th on the paper’s ‘Best places for business 2020’ guide, beating Newcastle, Glasgow, Sheffield, Belfast and Nottingham.

Judges hailed Bradford’s £10.1bn economy and young population, and mentioned that start-up founders are attracted by low commercial rents, good transport infrastructure and fast broadband.

The Sunday Times stated that ‘Recent years have seen regeneration sweep through Bradford’ and that ‘A range of redevelopment projects are part of a programme to add an extra £4bn to the economy by 2030’.

Bradford Council’s Chief Executive, Kersten England was noted as a key ‘Influencer’ and the authority’s financial support schemes for small businesses were highlighted.

Last year Bradford was named the most improved city in the UK to live and work by PwC, and in 2018 the city was hailed the best city in the UK to start a business by analysts from Barclays bank.

Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, Portfolio Holder for Regeneration, Planning and Transport, said: “We are very pleased to see that once again Bradford is being tipped as a great place to do business.

“Our growth schemes have been very successful in helping businesses create hundreds of new jobs and our broader economic strategy has been designed to create the right environment for businesses to flourish.”

Bradford Means Business

Bradford Means Business magazine cover January 2020

Dave Baldwin writes the ‘Just one more thing’ column for the January issue of Bradford Means Business magazine.

I can’t think of a better name for a magazine and website. From our industrial heritage at the heart of the global wool trade to our new title as Britain’s most improved city, Bradford Means Business in so many ways. This year and next, we will be aiming to add another designation to our district: UK City of Culture.

The successes we have enjoyed in recent months and years show what can be achieved when everyone’s noses are pointing in the same direction. It’s an approach we strongly believe in at the Bradford Economic Partnership. We have a clear vision to grow the economy, increase the number of jobs and improve the skills of our people. With our mantra of minimum requirement, maximum effort, we are making great progress.

Don’t just take my word for it. A record-breaking reduction in unemployment and strong growth in skills saw Bradford crowned top improver in the highly regarded Good Growth for Cities report from influential think tank Demos and Big Four accountancy firm PwC. The annual study singled out Bradford for the largest improvement in the jobs score of any UK city between 2015 and 2018 with unemployment falling from 10 per cent to 4.1 per cent. It also revealed 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.

As regular readers of Bradford Means Business will know, we have a dynamic business community populated with a rich variety of commercially successful and innovative companies from start-ups and kitchen table enterprises to scale-ups and market leaders. Entrepreneurs feel at home here. Global banking giant Barclays named Bradford as the best place in Britain to start a business, according to 12 key growth factors such as business rate relief, infrastructure, broadband speed and labour productivity.

Word is spreading and notable names are signing up for our success story. PwC chose Bradford for its new national assurance centre, creating 225 new professional jobs in the city centre. NEC Group, the UK’s leading live events business, has taken over the Odeon to create a 4,000-capacity venue, Bradford Live. Muse Developments, the urban renewal specialist, will bring forward a major new Grade A office building at City Park to support Bradford Council’s wider regeneration of the city centre.

It’s not just an economic story. Bradford is filled with creative talent. Home-grown arts organisations including England’s largest learning disability theatre company, Mind the Gap, Bradford Literature Festival, female-led theatre collective Common Wealth, intercultural arts hub Kala Sangam, Bradford Community Broadcasting, Freedom Studios and an exciting new generation of cultural voices are successfully engaging new audiences. Not to mention Channel 4 citing Bradford’s young, diverse and digitally-savvy communities in its decision to move its national HQ to West Yorkshire. Hence our bid to host UK City of Culture in 2025.

Bradford still faces many difficult challenges. We need Government to invest in key infrastructure such as Northern Powerhouse Rail with a Bradford Central station. But with a clear vision – to grow the economy, create new jobs and improve skills in our district – and everyone’s noses pointing in the same direction, we can give more young people the chance to succeed in life, whatever their background. I invite business leaders to get involved in whatever way they can to help us achieve our vision, whether that’s investing in their companies, taking time to support initiatives like Bradford Manufacturing Weeks or spreading the word about the good things happening here in our district. That will help show everyone that Bradford Means Business.

The impact of Bradford as a film and TV location

Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren on the set of The Duke, filmed in Bradford

By Dave Baldwin

City Hall played host to the A-list actors Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent as the latest major film production rolled into the district. Dame Helen has clearly been enjoying her stay, telling her many social media followers about Mumtaz curry house, Snow White at the Alhambra Theatre and an 80s night out, commenting about “the one and only Bradford with its own magic”.

The Academy Award-winning stars are appearing in The Duke, directed by Roger Michell of Notting Hill fame, which tells the story of Kempton Bunton, a taxi driver who was convicted of stealing Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London in 1961. Bunton claimed he wanted to raise £140,000 to help pay for TV licences for old-age pensioners in his home city of Newcastle.

David Wilson, director of Bradford UNESCO City of Film, told the local newspaper: “It was a real pleasure to host the first scenes of this film in Bradford. We have worked closely with the production for the past few months to prepare some excellent Bradford locations.

“In addition to the excitement of having such great talent in the city there is also the economic impact in terms of hotel stays for crew and local spend at cafes. We have also managed to get some great opportunities for students from the University of Bradford and Bradford College to support the production.”

Experience like this will be invaluable for the lucky students. It means they don’t have to pack their bags and travel to London or Hollywood to get a taste of what it is like to work on a major film production. The industry opportunity is on the doorstep here in Bradford.

The region saw almost non-stop production again last year, with the Bradford Film Office playing a vital supporting role in providing locations, production office space, hotel accommodation, local crew and extras. Peaky Blinders, Gentleman Jack, Victoria, Pennyworth, Ackley Bridge, the Downton Abbey movie, and Official Secrets were all shot in or around Bradford and the wider region.

Clio Barnard, the director of award-winning Bradford-based films The Arbor and The Selfish Giant, has returned to the district to make her latest feature, Ali & Ava, with filming in BD3. AA Dhand, the acclaimed Bradford-based crime writer, is making his first film, No Ordinary Life, which is set to premiere at the Bradford Literature Festival.

All this work provides a direct boost through multiple employment opportunities in front of and behind the camera. The longer term impact comes from promotion of our district as a tourist destination, both urban and rural. The City of Film offers location tours for film fans from across the world. The Bradford Movie Trail takes in scenes from classics such as Billy Liar, The Railway Children, Rita, Sue and Bob Too and Monty Python’s Meaning of Life as well as many more recent favourites.

Success breeds success. As in other areas of our economy, momentum is building in our domestic film industry. Mr Wilson said: “It is very clear to me that the Bradford district is held in very high regard and with a lot of affection by production managers, producers and directors who are making repeat visits but also recommending Bradford to other productions.”

We are living in a content revolution. Tech and media giants are pumping billions of dollars into original material in the global battle for attention. Netflix is spending $15bn a year on new content. Apple is committing $6bn to catch up. Disney is joining the fray with its new streaming brand. Not to mention BBC, ITV and Channel 4, which I understand is already operating in Leeds ahead of its head office move. It is estimated that more money will be spent on new content this year alone than during the entire 90s.

With our incredible architectural heritage and awe-inspiring natural landscapes, it is highly likely the flow of investment to Bradford will increase in coming years. Little Germany could easily pass for Gotham. The Dales for the Shire. Not only do we have the stunning locations, we also have the creative writing, acting and directing talent that is now bursting its way to the fore. Our film industry will form an important part of our bid to host UK City of Culture in 2025. And that would be the best starring role in a generation.