Before entering politics, Imran Khan was one of the greatest cricket stars to emerge from the subcontinent. When the celebrity was sworn in as Prime Minister of Pakistan last summer, the BBC told viewers that it was equivalent to David Beckham moving into Number 10.
Mr Khan rose to power on a ticket of fighting corruption, attacking inequality and ensuring a fair wicket through the rule of law. Like any world leader in 2019, he is facing a number of domestic and international challenges, but there is no doubt that Pakistan, with its accelerating economy and youthful population of 207m people, has enormous potential.
Mr Khan is keen to build bridges with friendly allies and this presents Bradford, as a globally connected district, with tremendous opportunities for increased trade. He has deep links with our district, having served as chancellor of the University of Bradford for nearly a decade. When Mr Khan stepped down in 2014 citing increasing political commitments, student union leaders described him as “an instrumental figurehead for the university and the city, and his work in politics and humanitarian work is a big inspiration”.
A delegation from Yorkshire, led by the University of Bradford, visited Pakistan this February to create new partnerships between the nation and the district. The university was a key partner of the Lahore Literature Festival, billed as the premier free-to-public cultural event in the provincial capital. Professor Brian Cantor, the vice chancellor, delivered the speech Making Knowledge Work on the role that universities can play as economic and technological dynamos of the modern world and how investing in technology can drive economic and social development.
The delegation also hosted a Destination Bradford networking dinner for alumni – ‘Braduates’ – applicants and stakeholders with representatives including Syima Aslam, founder and director of the Bradford Literature Festival. I was delighted to see the event attract national TV and newspaper coverage in Pakistan.
Professor Cantor, who was interviewed by journalists, said: “Pakistan is a key area for us in terms of recruitment, alumni, and partnership collaborations, both academic and industrial. It’s our ambition that this visit will create new opportunities, not only for the university but for the Bradford region as a whole.”
Strengthening links with Pakistan will surely open up new trade opportunities with China, the new global superpower. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative includes a $55bn programme of infrastructure investment in roads, railways, telecoms, energy and socio-economic projects. It’s part of the gargantuan One Belt, One Road plan and will connect western China to the Arabian sea through Pakistan.
I read with interest that Leeds Bradford Airport has said future flights to Pakistan could be on the horizon. If realised, this would represent an important connection to that ambitious road, which is surely destined to be the flagship infrastructure project of the 21st century.
It’s vital we keep up in Yorkshire and increase our economic, social and communal connections with fast-growing parts of the global economy. LBA is key to this and thats why it’s important that businesses have their say on new plans to improve transport connectivity to our airport.
West Yorkshire Combined Authority, chaired by Bradford Council leader Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, has published proposals to support the forecast growth in the airport’s passenger numbers from 4m in 2017 to 7.1m by 2030 and more than 9m by 2050. These include improvements to the road network and a possible new parkway rail station.
Cllr Kim Groves, chair of the WYCA transport committee, said: “Leeds Bradford Airport has huge potential for growth in passenger numbers as well as acting as a catalyst for economic development and job creation in the surrounding area. The proposals to develop much-needed improvements to the airport’s transport connections will help ensure it reaches that potential and I would urge people to ensure they have their say by taking part in the consultation.”
As with Northern Powerhouse Rail, our business community needs to make its voice heard, loud and clear, that Bradford needs investment in infrastructure to accelerate our economic growth.
We are making great progress with our economic growth strategy, a central strand of which is leveraging the potential of our globally connected district. By building partnerships with powerful players like Imran Khan and Pakistan, we’ll soon be rising up the batting order.
• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club