From deep tech to high finance, why Leeds is luring companies north


SOURCE: THEGUARDIAN.COM
JUN 04, 2022

Move to Leeds and benefit from the jobs boom, says Melissa Berthelot, boss of medical appliance maker WarnerPatch, who relocated her business from London two years ago to benefit from a burgeoning deep tech industry in the West Yorkshire city.

With skilled data science and software engineers in short supply across the south-east – and most other parts of the country – Leeds has proved a happy hunting ground for Berthelot, an engineer turned chief executive who used the first lockdown to make the jump north.

Deep tech refers to sectors including artificial intelligence, robotics and bio-technologies. Its Blade Runner-like image may seem worlds away from the Emmerdale village tour on offer just west of town, but Leeds is managing to straddle old and new as it jumps up the UK rankings for job creation and productivity.

The city has gained a reputation for developing the skilled staff and financial muscle needed to fund startups and innovation, especially in healthcare, but also in the city’s more traditional areas of expertise – financial and legal services, manufacturing and retail.

That reputation has seen major employers including the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority opening offices there, and the new UK infrastructure bank choosing Leeds for its headquarters.

We wanted to be somewhere with universities we could recruit from. Data science is one of our growth areas

Andrew Bailey, Bank of England

According to law firm Irwin Mitchell’s latest UK Powerhouse report, produced by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), Leeds will be one of the few northern cities to improve in terms of job creation by the end of 2023.

While soaring energy costs and a Brexit-related dearth of skilled workers is forecast to put a dampener on GDP growth in most of the country in the second half of this year, Leeds is expected to buck the trend. It will add about 19,000 jobs by the end of 2023, pushing it from ninth place in the league table of employment by cities six months ago to sixth by the end of next year.

“The strong employment performance of Leeds is in contrast with its regional rivals, and while nearby Sheffield delivered similar economic output in the fourth quarter of 2021, Leeds’s record on job creation is significantly better in 2021 and projected to be better still by the fourth quarter of 2023,” the report said.

In a recent interview, Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey said the deep well of data science graduates was one of the main reasons the central bank chose Leeds for its new base.

“We wanted somewhere that has a presence in terms of financial services staff,” he said, “with universities we could recruit from, and that we have partnerships with. Data science is one of our growth areas.”

The Bank will base about 500 staff in a new building that Bailey has yet to approve.

Manchester holds the top spot for startups outside London, says Irwin Mitchell, but Leeds’s growing portfolio of major companies is beginning to shame its rival. Asda, First Direct, Yorkshire Bank, Centrica, parcel firm Evri (formerly Hermes), and Direct Line are among the big names based in the city.

The UK infrastructure bank will be housed in refurbished city centre offices by the River Aire, and Channel 4’s new national headquarters will be in Leeds. While doubt remains over its status as a publicly owned TV channel, about 200 of its 912 staff will initially be sited at the former Majestyk nightclub.

The city fought off competition from Birmingham and Manchester, and the fact that 90% of London staff quit the channel rather than move will boost the scarce media job opportunities in Leeds.

The Financial Conduct Authority is another public institution heading for Leeds, joining the Bank of England by moving an offshoot to the city. As with Channel 4, few London staff are expected to embrace the relocation packages, which will bring job opportunities to people in Leeds and surrounding area.

Transport remains the city’s achilles heel, however. Decades of wrangling over a tram system means Leeds is the largest city in western Europe without a mass transit network. And with only one mainline train station, getting in and out of the city is also a struggle.

Berthelot is developing a device that can monitor blood diseases in the home, making routine hospital visits unnecessary. She says a pop-up innovation centre that was part of a major overhaul of Leeds hospitals, and now supports a cluster of health business startups, was a major attraction.

“In the UK, and Europe as a whole, it is difficult to find talent,” she says, “but we’ve found it, and it is why we are now based in Leeds.”