Local authorities, the private sector, public health, the police, universities and other organisations have come together across West Yorkshire to set up a group tasked with the role of helping to lead the county towards economic recovery in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chaired by Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe, the Economic Recovery Board was set up soon after the country went into lockdown earlier this year and is intended to co-ordinate a response to the crisis and to help the county’s economy recover from the crisis.

Its role is to focus on developing strategies and collective action to rebuild the economy in this part of the world while also seeking to mitigate the impact of the crisis on disadvantaged communities and the environment.

It could also look at wider issues, including changes in policies, such as a greater focus on local supply chains, and to boost clean travel to make the most of the fall in air pollution.

Cllr Hinchcliffe, who is also Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, as well as leader of Bradford Council, has been joined on the board by the council leaders of each of all five West Yorkshire local authorities.

It is also made up of senior leaders from a broad range of sectors, the local enterprise partnership, business representative bodies, public health, the police, trade unions, universities, and the community sector.

“Although the future impact of Covid-19 is still uncertain, we know that the path to a thriving economy that works for everyone is likely to be long and difficult, so we need to get started now in planning that.”

Cllr Hinchcliffe – Chair of WYCA

Cllr Hinchcliffe said when the group first met at the end of April: “Although the future impact of Covid-19 is still uncertain, we know that the path to a thriving economy that works for everyone is likely to be long and difficult, so we need to get started now in planning that.

“It’s going to take a huge collective effort to ensure that West Yorkshire emerges with a sustainable and resilient economy, which is why we are bringing together the leading organisations in our region to fight together for a successful future.

“As we have seen in other recent economic downturns, our region faces particular challenges that mean some people in our society will feel the impact of this pandemic more acutely than others.

“With over 70 per cent of businesses now reporting having furloughed staff, and with 220,000 people in our region employed in industries that have already been effectively shut down by this crisis, we must act now to protect jobs and livelihoods – particularly in less secure parts of the economy.

“We are already working together through the Local Resilience Forum and other regional partnerships to respond to the immediate crisis. By joining forces through this Economic Recovery Board and by making the most of opportunities such as our recently secured devolution deal, we can consider how to give West Yorkshire the best chance of recovery in future.”

The Board will use evidence about the specific effects of the pandemic on the region to put in place targeted measures to ensure businesses and people receive the right support.

It will consider how strategies like the Local Industrial Strategy and transport plans should be adapted to take account of a new economic reality as a result of Covid-19, for example by investing in regional supply chains and expanding active and other forms of clean travel to capitalise on improvements in air quality as a result of the lockdown.

Roger Marsh OBE, Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and of the NP11 group of local enterprise partnerships across the North, will lead engagement with businesses for the board.

He said: “The response to this crisis from partners across our region has been phenomenal, with organisations across all sectors working together to get funding and support out quickly to the people and businesses who need it.

“Businesses themselves have shown extraordinary ingenuity and innovation, and I’d like to offer my particular thanks to those who are stepping up by providing PPE and other vital equipment to the NHS at this critical time.

“There is no doubt that many businesses are struggling, however, and as our region has a greater share of small and micro-businesses than other parts of the country, there are particular issues that we need to consider to help those businesses survive and ultimately thrive.

“We must take advantage of the opportunities this crisis presents to reset our economy by increasing resilience among our businesses and strengthening supply chains and innovation within our region.

“I’m very pleased to be leading engagement with the business community and working with leaders across the region to come up with collective, practical solutions to the challenges businesses are facing and ensure they are able to bounce back as quickly as possible.”

The work of the Economic Recovery Board will build on existing partnership working between local agencies in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which includes channelling over £250 million of government grants to local businesses through West Yorkshire’s councils; helping people who’ve lost their jobs as a result of the crisis find alternative employment through the LEP and Combined Authority’s Employment Hub; and joining forces through the Local Resilience Forum to coordinate West Yorkshire’s emergency response.

After its first meeting via the online Zoom platform at the end of April, the board set three priorities intended to drive a targeted recovery plan for the region: developing resilient and thriving businesses, boosted by innovation, high skills and entrepreneurialism; developing an inclusive economy that provides people with a decent standard of living; and promoting environmental sustainability in all parts of the region.

After the first Economic Recovery Board meeting, the five leaders of West Yorkshire’s councils (Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe – Bradford; Cllr Tim Swift – Calderdale; Cllr Shabir Pandor – Kirklees; Cllr Judith Blake – Leeds; and Cllr Denise Jeffery – Wakefield) issued a joint statement: “The economic impact of Covid-19 is like nothing any of us has experienced before and we thank all those who have joined our Economic Recovery Board and pledged their commitment to fight alongside us for the people and businesses of our region.

“Coordinated, local leadership will be vital to ensure that West Yorkshire emerges stronger from this crisis. Local government, business, public health, the police, utilities and transport all have a role to play in our economic recovery.

“By harnessing our collective resources and expertise, we can rebuild a stronger, fairer, more sustainable future for our people, businesses and communities.

“Our region faced longstanding challenges before this pandemic.

Alongside the immediate need to safeguard the thousands of jobs and businesses affected by Covid-19, we must also use this crisis to build the kind of future to which the people of our region aspire.

“Working with our colleagues in the private sector, we must put in place the support to develop thriving, innovative businesses that will in turn create good quality jobs which will give people a decent standard of living.

“We must also work with the Government, Transport for the North and transport operators to provide a clean, reliable transport network that enables businesses to resume trading and gives people the confidence to travel to work, school and healthcare safely.”

The board has been set up with the remit, meeting frequently to agree and implement an economic recovery plan for the region and provide a collective voice for the region to present to the Government.

Its work is intended to build on existing partnership working between local agencies in response to the pandemic, taking a longer term look at future recovery.

It plans to use evidence about the impact of the pandemic on the region to develop an economic recovery plan, making the most of the opportunities offered by the historic West Yorkshire devolution deal council leaders agreed in March to put in place tailored support and rebuild a stronger, fairer, more sustainable economy.

It will also provide a strong, collective voice for the region to Government.

The Board is established as a ‘task and finish’ group of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.