This has been an incredibly busy few weeks for Bradford with public announcements, both favourable and disappointing regarding the delivery of significant and long strived for developments.
The news that the government had awarded £4 million toward the restoration of the Bradford Odeon, making it the biggest venue of its kind outside London, was an incredibly important boost to the ongoing redevelopment of the city centre. News that Bradford University’s proposals for a Medical School had not received the support of the Department of Health was an unexpected knock back.
During the same period, the Communities Secretary Sajid Javed also announced £50 million pounds worth of funding to support proposals contained in Governments Integrated Communities Strategy. Bradford was one of five local authorities identified for particular investment and of course I welcome this.
But we must not lose sight of the central role, a thriving economy always plays in a cohesive and integrated society, nationally or locally. It is absolutely clear that cities like Bradford, along with much of the Industrial North, have been neglected when it comes to investment in the infra-structure that always sits behind a successful economy.
Economics always impacts on the way communities work, the fairness or otherwise of economic opportunities can clearly assist or hinder the development of sections of a community in relation to others. It defines how a community is perceived and how it perceives others, especially when those ‘others’ are perceived to have more opportunity to succeed.
The Brexit vote gave us a clear indication of how deep that resentment goes and it is no surprise that community tension is heightened in areas under the most economic strain. Whilst the Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy may make some contribution towards the creation of a country more at ease with itself, it is a fair and just economy that will make a much greater impact.
Last week I attended the London launch of Bradford’s Economic Strategy, along with a host of fellow ‘Bradvocates’ and political, business and cultural leaders from across the country. Spearheaded by the Bradford Economic Partnership, the strategy aims to grow the economy of the Bradford District by £4 Billion taking advantage of Bradford’s position at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse.
The significance of this event cannot be underestimated, as a city with one of the youngest populations in the UK, this can become either our greatest strength or our most serious weakness. Well trained, skilled and motivated with the right jobs or business start up opportunities, interconnectivity and transport infra-structure to support them, Bradford will fly. The City was recently identified by Barclays Bank as the best place to start up a business. The aspiration is no fantasy this can happen. But a marginalised, poorly educated population whose brightest and most motivated feel no option but to leave to work and study in neighbouring northern cities then our hopes are bleak.
I recently spoke, together with fellow District MP’s John Grogan (Keighley) and Phillip Davies (Shipley) at Bradford’s Chamber of Commerce. I was pleased to hear about the willingness of the business community to work together with other stakeholders and partners to make our great city even more successful. And I believe that Asian businesses in Bradford and West Yorkshire should look to local business support organisations to help them prosper and grow.
We pride ourselves on our diversity in Bradford and that extends to the business community too. The city has changed from being the ‘wool capital of the world’ and now has many successful businesses in a range of sectors – food and catering, retail and leisure, textiles and other manufacturing, legal and financial, for example; and we all want the same thing: for Bradford to become more successful, prosperous, healthy and attractive to outsiders.
If you’re in business, the Chamber can help you in various ways:
1) It can increase your profile in the business community and media, and expand your networks
2) It offers sector-specific support, for example to manufacturers, property/construction and legal/financial
3) If you’re thinking about exporting abroad, it has a team of dedicated specialists to help start you off
4) It can lobby decision-makers and give your business a voice
5) It also has discounted services/utilities, plus a 24/7 legal/HR helpline.
Other specific or ‘one-off’ projects are also done to further support Bradford’s economic growth. For example, helping our young people to become ‘fit for work’ is one area that would help. We want our young people to get some of the best jobs that are out there, and so they need to be equipped with the best possible tools – enhancing their employability is important and so the Chamber will work with the council and others to address this.
At the Chamber event, myself, John and Phillip faced questions that were mostly interested in how we could work together to promote Bradford not how we differed in our political viewpoints. This is important, in my opinion.
I said at the event that it’s all too easy for some people, especially in the media, to repeat the tired old stereotypes about Bradford. But the cityscape is changing rapidly with new shops, new plans, new ambitions and new hope… and this is going to continue.
But, in order to realise those ambitions, we need to continue our spirit of inclusivity into our business community. We need our businesses – whether they are owned by Asian, Black or any other ethnic group – to get involved in some of the various schemes, whether that’s helping young people into work, getting better business-education links, or community improvement projects, for example.
How our Asian and other businesses want to do that is up to them – but I would like to help here. Please feed back to me how you would like to engage with other stakeholders in the city, like the Bradford Chamber of Commerce and others. What would you choose to get involved with? What would you want to achieve? What barriers prevent you from taking part in schemes to make Bradford better?
If you have any thoughts and views on this, please do let me know.
If you want to find out more about how West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce can help your business and your community, then phone them (01274 772777) email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website wnychamber.co.uk.