Aiming high is great but we need to be realistic so that we can focus our efforts.
Leeds has a large growth deal, but it does not have a devolution deal. That gives us a quieter voice than cities that have Mayors like Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and Liverpool. It gives us a quieter voice than London, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales too.
But a quiet voice doesn’t mean that we should stay silent. Instead we should use Manchester’s national and global visibility to secure the investment we need. We should aim to strengthen and support our neighbour’s voice. We must recognise that the success of both of our cities depends on the other.
Another limit to Leeds’ ambition is its brand. We aren’t globally known in the way that Liverpool, Manchester, or Scotland are. But Leeds is the largest city in Yorkshire — and that brand is becoming more widely known internationally. So Leeds should continue to work with York, Hull, the whole of Yorkshire, and the whole country on making ourselves visible to the world.
The Leeds economy is one of the strongest big-city economies in the UK, but it is small. We may want to stay small but we must accept that that inherently limits what we can achieve.
There are significant restrictions on what Leeds can achieve within the UK. As we exit the EU I think that those restrictions will increase. If Leeds continues as it is, we will have more and more of our decisions taken for us in London. To date that has been the choice of the people of Leeds. We rejected a Mayor in our referendum on the subject. We may continue to make that choice, but I think that we would be better off taking another one.
While Leeds itself is not as large as Manchester or Birmingham, the wider region including Bradford, Wakefield, Halifax, Huddersfield, and York, can be as big as those two cities if we choose to work together.
If we are willing to take more decisions with our closest neighbours in West Yorkshire and then yet more decisions together with Manchester, Liverpool, and Sheffield we can achieve more of the improvements that I have proposed in this series of blogs. If we chose to stay small we will able to achieve less.
Ultimately though, this is a political choice, not an economic one. And I am not a politician.