UK’s Leeds City Region excels at data, healthcare, manufacturing

David Shepherd is the Head of Trade & Investment at the UK’s Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership. He says that business sectors are the lens through which inward investors investigate a location. For Leeds City Region, those sectors revolve around commercialising and handling big data, healthcare technology, and advanced manufacturing, particularly pumps, gears, valves and the like. Jo Murray speaks to him.

Leeds City Region covers a huge expanse of northern England. It comprises a diverse area of 10 authorities that include Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and York; and it is situated within the Northern Powerhouse that extends from the Midlands to Scotland. The role of Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership is to attract knowledge-driven jobs and to have a global reach. And it is both an attractive and productive region; David reminds us, with a £64.6 billion annual contribution, it is the largest UK economy outside London.

“Our economy is broad,” says David. “Financial services are a recognised strength here, but it’s less well-known that our manufacturing sector is the biggest in the UK, employing 144,000 people.”

The financial services industry in the Leeds City Region has grown out of a plethora of banks and building societies who have modernised, collaborated with technology companies and become expert at product development through commercialising and handling big data securely.

Given the region’s tradition of setting up and running savings and lending institutions, it comes as little surprise that payment processing is one of the region’s specialities. It is home to the first UK fintech accelerator outside London and is the UK’s second centre for banking, employing 22,000 people. The region is also home to world-leading system providers. BJSS’s systems are used in six out of every 10 foreign exchange transactions taking place worldwide; SSP Worldwide’s insurance systems are used by eight out of the 10 UK companies; TSYS’s data centre in Harrogate processes payment activity from 53 million cards and £750 million in terms of value of transactions in an average day; at its busiest, Vocalinks’ data centre in Harrogate processes £10 billion cash withdrawals per month, equating to 1 million transactions per hour; and top athletes from around the world were able to make contactless payments at the Rio 2016 Olympics in collaboration with VISA using the NFC Ring developed in Bradford. That is a long list of achievements that completely validates the region’s claim to being expert in payment processing and the Fintech Capital of the North.

Media and sports tech is another interesting sector not mentioned often by inward investment agencies. David points out that, in the UK, seven of Northern England’s top 10 digital agencies are based in Leeds. The City Region is home to: Sky Betting and Gaming; Sky’s digital services hub; and Perform Group, the global digital sports content company.

Leeds City Region is also where four out of five of the National Health Services’ (NHS) headquarters, including NHS England, are located. “This is a very strong eco-system for us,” says David. Healthcare specialisms are broken down into four key areas.

The first is health informatics. NHS Digital employs 2,000 staff, the largest number of health informaticians in the UK. Leeds is the first UK location to create a centralised, digital set of patient data; and it also plays host to leading private sector clinical software providers TPP and EMIS. Next comes medical technologies. The National Physical Laboratory is located here as well as in London; and the Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering also here. JenaValve, which manufactures artificial hearts, has chosen Leeds; as has Steeper which invented the first robotic hand. Hip replacement technology and medical equipment R&D are also both part of the healthcare landscape. The third area of healthcare expertise in Leeds City Region is wound-care and regenerative medicine; and the fourth is diagnostics and precision medicine.

All in all, 196,000 highly skilled jobs in health and life sciences are maintained in the region; there are 138 centres of excellence; and it is home to the largest teaching hospital in Europe – St James.

While data processing and financial services make sense for a region steeped in banking history, and the healthcare sector may come as a bit of a surprise to some, most of us would associate Leeds City region with heavy industry and manufacturing. It is nestled in the UK’s industrial heartlands and its products have powered much of the country’s industrial success across previous generations.

Key industries revolve around turbochargers, pumps and valves, gears and speciality chemicals. This year, Huddersfield company Blackhall Engineering manufactured the world’s largest gate valve for Texas, showcasing the region’s expertise in valves. And it plays host to the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence, the Centre for Precision Technologies, the Centre for Precision Engineering, R&D facilities for Cummins and BorgWarner, the Automotive Research Centre and the Turbocharger Research Institute.

The region’s location in the heart of the UK’s industrial north has facilitated its success in both manufacturing and distributing items such as pumps and valves. Its companies produce high-energy pumps for the oil and gas, water, chemicals and hydrocarbon processing industries; and they are part of a strong supply chain, accommodating the east coast and north-east refineries and power stations.

The talent pool available to the various sectors that make Leeds City Region attractive to inward investors is very large. Not only does the region comprise 10 interlinked Local Authority areas and cities that feed into and off each other, it also benefits from a highly diverse and young population. When the 10 authorities are combined, it produces a working age population of 1.3 million people which is comparable in size to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Prague and Brussels. Its anchor academic and research institutions have long traditions of excellence and are very much at the forefront of the big questions all economies are seeking to answer in terms of data, healthcare and advanced manufacturing.

David says his organisation’s inward investment work is not only global and progressive but it is also pragmatic. For example, when measuring its success, productivity is important, even if the number of jobs retained is reduced; but inclusive growth is also vital so that all communities within the region benefit, including the elderly. “An inclusive growth strategy is becoming more important to investors too,” he says. “We are trying to be a knowledge-driven economy but we will not miss out on opportunities in other areas.”

Leeds City Region’s approach to growth is working. It is a vibrant location in which to live. The Lonely Planet recognised Leeds as a top five European destination in 2017 and the Hepworth Wakefield recently won the prestigious Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017. It is a great place to study too, the region hosts nine universities, one of which – the University of Leeds – is the Times University of the Year 2017. Businesses are attracted by this eco-system and are starting to move out of London to harness the region’s advantages. The Northern Powerhouse is helping to rebalance the UK’s economy and Leeds City Region is proving to be an ideal location.

“Burberry is coming to Leeds and bringing with them skilled jobs. This is not a cost-reduction exercise,” he insists by way of an example of the current north-shoring trend.

With a thirst for knowledge, a great quality of life, the ability to deliver the talent pool, variety of accommodation businesses need, and world-class Higher Education institutions, companies from inside the UK and from around the world are starting to get it: Leeds City Region has a powerful value proposition and it intends to be heard.