Spring Budget: The Combined Authority presents roadmap for West Yorkshire and UK recovery

Pandemic could cost region £15 billion and see job market struggle until 2027 unless government backs plan for recovery.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leeds City Enterprise Partnership (LEP) are calling on the government’s budget to take urgent action to support the region’s recovery from COVID-19, or risk years of mass unemployment and further economic turmoil.  

In a submission to government ahead of the March Budget, the Combined Authority calls for action to back its vision for recovery with investment and powers. It says not doing so risks the region being more than £15 billion poorer, with unemployment set to rise to 14%, and the job market not recovering to pre-crisis levels until 2027. 

With support for regional recovery plans overlooked in November’s Spending Review, the Combined Authority and LEP have reiterated calls for the government budget to deliver on its promises of levelling up and fund the £1.6 billion West Yorkshire Economic and Transport Recovery Plans.

Together they have the potential to help create thousands of new jobs in high-growth industries vital to meeting UK and global challenges, deliver clean growth that benefits all residents, improve productivity and create a modern, sustainable transport system.  

Productivity in West Yorkshire lags much of the UK - closing this gap could add £8.5 billion to the value of the region’s economy and lead to greatly improved living standards for many.  

Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leader of Bradford Council, said: “The pandemic has had a devastating impact across the North, with places like West Yorkshire disproportionately affected. Without action now to address this, we risk untold long-term damage on the lives and livelihoods of people from every community in our region.

“It is disappointing that the recent Spending Review did not include a commitment to support our Economic Recovery Plan, which offered solutions that would have a positive impact on the entire country’s recovery. With the right funding, we can tackle the entrenched inequalities that exist not only between North and South but within our communities and give everyone hope of a better future. This March budget is the time for the government to make good on its promises of levelling up.” 

Roger Marsh OBE DL, Chair of the LEP and Chair of the NP11 group pf Northern local enterprise partnerships, said: “We’re calling on the Chancellor to empower us with the right funding and support so we can create a regional economy that works for all, where people can access the right skills training that will prepare them to take advantage of the jobs of the future.  

“The West Yorkshire Economy Recovery Plan sets out an ambitious blueprint to address decades of under-investment in the region and also make a major contribution to the wider UK recovery. It has the scope to create thousands of good, new jobs for local people in the high growth areas of tomorrow and address UK and global challenges.”  

Cllr Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Improving our transport system is not just about getting people from A to B, it’s about getting our region to where we want to be by helping people access jobs, education and leisure to improve living standards. Changing how we get around will also play a central role in achieving the region’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2038. 

“To do this, we need the government to give us certainty over key transport projects that affect West Yorkshire and the North. We need an end to the broken promises we have seen time and again when it comes to transport investment in our region.” 

Since the start of the pandemic the Combined Authority and LEP committed to invest over £20.5 million of local funds to support economic recovery. This includes £7 million in grant funding to support small businesses impacted by the pandemic and £13.5 million in employment and skills support for jobseekers and businesses.  

The right investment to support economic growth and recovery  

The Combined Authority says further significant investment is needed to ensure that West Yorkshire is able to come through the pandemic and not just contribute to the national recovery effort, but have a significant and positive impact on it.

The West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Plan sets out a fully costed package of essential funding required to support the West Yorkshire’s recovery over the next five years, with specific investment propositions around skills (£465m), health-tech (£25m), digital (£159m), the transition to a carbon net zero economy (£194m), the region’s creative and cultural industries (c£50m), and support to drive a new generation of entrepreneurship across the region (£340m). 

Together, these measures have the potential to create thousands of high-skilled, good jobs in key sectors that are vital to both West Yorkshire and the UK’s long term economic prosperity. 

A transport recovery to get West Yorkshire on the right track   

As West Yorkshire works towards being a net-zero carbon city region by 2038, the Transport Recovery Plan will also support the shift towards sustainable modes of transport as the economy recovers and grows.   

The Budget submission calls on the government to break the cycle of promises followed by downgrade or cancellation when it comes to transport investment in the North and commit to funding projects vital to the region’s future transport. 

It also calls for a national bus strategy to protect and grow passenger numbers with devolved funding for bus operators to match the projected £1.5 million a week revenue shortfall they are experiencing as a result of the pandemic. 

Funding for Levelling Up 

More broadly, the Combined Authority and partners in local government across the country are together calling for the government to support regional bodies working directly with communities as they seek address regional inequalities, level-up the UK and rebuild from the impact of COVID-19.  

This includes a commitment to a fair and stable funding settlement for Local Authorities to address ongoing financial pressures, long-term resources to sustain Combined Authorities, and a multi-year settlement that allows LEPs to continue their work.  

In its submission to government, the Combined Authority has asked for:

West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Plan  

  • £25m to build on West Yorkshire’s global strengths in health-tech to deliver investment opportunities, jobs, and better health outcomes for local communities 
  • £194m to build on clean growth strengths to deliver infrastructure opportunities, jobs and skills for the future to support the transition to become a Net Zero economy 
  • £159m for digital transformation to address digital skills gaps, provide businesses with the digital support they need, and to capitalise on future opportunities. 
  • £340m to drive entrepreneurship across the region, unlocking entrepreneurs from diverse communities, building on the LEP’s participation in MIT REAP (Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme), reusing empty spaces, and stimulating innovative start-ups and training. 
  • C£50m for creative and cultural industries to ensure the survival of key cultural assets in the region, maximise creative business potential, provide support for environmentally sustainable business models, empower local communities, and provide the skills for creative opportunities of the future. 
  • £67.4m to support the Northern Powerhouse Trade and Proposition alongside a £15m Business Support Fund to create new and safeguard existing jobs across the region. 
  • £465m across five years to support skills for the future building on the recommendations set out in the Future Ready Skills Commission. 

Transport Recovery Plan   

  • Firm commitments projects vital to the region’s transport future including improvements to Leeds station and tracks, the Transpennine Route Upgrade, electrification, Northern Powerhouse Rail with a new line between Leeds, Bradford city centre and Manchester, and the future of HS2 East.  
  • Support for a West Yorkshire connectivity plan including a low carbon, innovative West Yorkshire Mass Transit System, and a new integrated ticketing and information system for passengers in the region. 
  • A national bus strategy to protect and grow passenger numbers with devolved funding for bus operators to match the projected £1.5 million a week revenue shortfall they are experiencing as a result of the decline in passenger numbers. 

Flood Alleviation 

  • Working with partners including the Environment Agency, the Yorkshire Regional Flood and Coastal Committee and Yorkshire Water, the Combined Authority has identified a focused package of investment activities with the potential to add resilience to existing development and enable future growth.  
  • The plan requires £120 million of government investment which will unlock local contributions for 30 priority flood risk management schemes and deliver a comprehensive £15m natural flood management programme. It has identified an initial package of four ‘shovel ready’ flood alleviation projects if £21.6 million of additional funding could be realised.  

UK Shared Prosperity Fund  

  • The Combined Authority has separately submitted a detailed response setting out its asks of Government in relation to UK Shared Prosperity Fund including £115m per year and the Levelling Up Fund.