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.