“I think virtually all of the problems that Britain has, and Europe has, and the world has, can be solved by more entrepreneurship. So why don’t we start now by having more entrepreneurship?” So said Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, at the inaugural annual lecture for the Centre of Entrepreneurs (CFE).
We agree and I’m pleased to say Bradford is doing its bit. New figures from the CFE show 4,127 businesses were formed in the district last year. That’s 15 new start-ups every calendar working day. This represents growth of 2 per cent from 2017 and made Bradford the 10th most popular place to start a business in 2018, up from 14th the previous year. Who knows what wonders are being dreamed up on our doorsteps?
I’m delighted but not surprised at this national success story for Bradford, given our young and enterprising population, distinctive offer, growth potential and globally connected nature. We already know that Bradford is the best place to start a business in Britain, according to Barclays, which found the UK’s best business rate relief, road infrastructure, number of job vacancies, cost of commercial rent, and business survival rate in our district. These are clearly making for a fertile growth environment, as the new CFE figures illustrate so well.
The UK is an established entrepreneurial nation, as confirmed by the CFE, which has published its fifth annual analysis of company formations. Latest Companies House data shows that UK business formations reached a record 663,772 last year and recovered from a drop in 2017. “It is encouraging to see formation numbers recover and hit a new high,” says Matt Smith, director of the CFE. “These figures demonstrate the resilience and confidence of entrepreneurs across the country, confirmed by a 5.7 per cent increase of business registrations and the strengthening of London as Europe’s leading startup hub.”
Friederike Andres, research assistant at the CFE, added: “As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, the Government needs to reassure entrepreneurs that it will continue to champion and support them. This includes efforts to mitigate any negative effects from EU exit, as well as tangible measures to reform business rates, boost SME procurement and tackle other underlying issues.”
Policy improvements can always be made to support entrepreneurs but tinkering around the edges won’t deliver the dramatic shift we need. I was fascinated to read about the radical plans to allow the North of England to raise its own taxes. This is the sort of bold transformation that could help to unlock more funding for the projects that will make the biggest impact.
In a newspaper interview, Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse Minister, explained it was time for the Government to consider a Department for the North, with its own secretary of state. “We should not close our minds to the localisation of taxation,” said Mr Berry. “A big complaint is that money is being invested more in London and the South than in the North. Taxes raised in the North could be spent in the North. And we should not close our minds to varying income tax at a local level.”
This could be transformational. Everyone knows that Bradford needs new infrastructure. Like many post-industrial cities in the North of England, it has suffered from decades of under-investment in the built environment. Upgrades to our infrastructure links would generate huge economic and social returns via increased productivity and agglomeration. It’s an argument that’s been rehearsed a million times before, but I’ll say it again: better physical and digital connections make it quicker and easier for our entrepreneurs to move around their goods and services.
The MP for Bradford South, Judith Cummins, was banging the drum for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) and Bradford in Westminster Hall last week. She said: “Bradford, like other towns and cities across the North, urgently needs this high speed rail link to meet growing demand and to fulfil our economic potential. And that investment in NPR should include a Bradford stop in the city centre where the benefits will be felt by the greatest number of people.”
Instead of going cap to hand to senior ministers, we would have the power to make the investment decisions here. Business growth would surely follow, generating more wealth, more jobs and more tax returns. A virtuous circle. Who knows, we might even produce some of the innovations that can solve the problems of Britain, Europe or even the world, as Mr Schmidt would have it. We’ve certainly got the entrepreneurs, as the latest CFE figures show; we just need to back them.
• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley FC