A dramatic increase in the number of females entering STEM positions, improvements to Leeds railway station and a massive increase in apprenticeships are the top priorities for the new president of Leeds Chamber of Commerce.
Paula Dillon, the first woman to the hold the top chamber position, said she wanted the chamber to be the pre-eminent business representative organisation in the region and said she wanted the city to become more effective at selling itself nationally and internationally.
Ms Dillon, a partner at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, took over from former president Gerald Jennings in the autumn having served as the chamber’s vice-president previously.
Amanda Beresford, partner and head of planning at fellow law firm Shulmans, has taken over as the new vice-president.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Ms Dillon said: “I want the Chamber to be 100 per cent recognised as the business representative organisation in the region. I genuinely think we are, but I would like for that position to be completely entrenched and established.
“I would like to encourage more women to take part in chamber activity and business generally. I look back at the law 30 years ago, there were hardly any women represented in the higher echelons of the profession.
“If you look at STEM professions, they are where we were all that time ago. And I would like to work together to bring that forward. To help the cause of women going into those professions.
“We will continue to campaign for improvements to the station. We think that the busiest station in the North deserves an upgrade, irrespective of what happens with HS2, because that helps business.
“When our people are stuck at the station, when they can’t get trains or can’t get through the barriers it impacts on us. In terms of inward investment it impacts on us. When people arrive at the station and their arrival experience is not great.”
Regarding how she would go about producing a more diverse workforce in the STEM sector, Ms Dillon said work was already under way.
“We have got a really good relationship with the educators at further education and higher education level. They are very alive to the needs that business are identifying and want to work with us.
“There are women out there who have done it, and I would like to showcase more of them.
“You never turn on the TV and see a female engineer or scientists. We want to make Leeds the first city in the country where every firm has at least one apprentice.
“It should not be about us, it should be about women playing their part in the workforce, particularly in those STEM roles.”
Ms Dillon said the chamber would continue to push for Northern Powerhouse Rail under her leadership and that a stop in Bradford had to be an essential part of this. She added that she wanted to continue to collaborate with neighbouring councils in the wider Yorkshire area.
Both Ms Dillon and Ms Beresford said they felt that Leeds’s bid to become Capital of Culture in 2023 could be a game changer in terms of shining a light on the city.
“Yorkshire does not do a good enough job of selling itself,” said Ms Dillon.
“We just have not made enough of our cultural offing. They don’t realise what we have got here, even our own people don’t know what we have got here, with everybody being proud of the culture and feeling part of it. That is what I think 2023 should do.”
Ms Beresford agreed saying: “Part of the fantastic offer that Leeds has is its fantastic geographical location If we could package that with culture we could have a winner. ”