Make no mistake, Channel 4’s decision to choose Leeds for their new national headquarters is a game changer for the city.
The decision was fantastic recognition for the hard work put into the bid by people in the creative and digital sectors in Leeds, the Local Enterprise Partnership, as well as local authority partners in Leeds, Bradford and York.
The move will galvanise our already thriving creative sector. It will attract more companies in the TV/production field to relocate here – three new production companies already with more announcements to come. Most importantly it will create jobs and opportunities for children and young people.
Attracting investment and jobs to create opportunities for young people has never been more vital - particularly as it provides more routes for people to fight their way out of poverty. Fourteen thousand more people in Leeds have been pushed into poverty by austerity since 2010. There are now a total of 164,000 people, of which 26,000 are children, living in poverty in Leeds.
This includes people forced to choose between food and fuel for their children. It includes people in receipt of Universal Credit and it includes people in low paid jobs, with 65,000 workers in Leeds earning below the Living Wage Foundation’s living wage.
Rising levels of UK children growing up in poverty is “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster.” These words are not taken from a political rally or a point scoring talk show. Unbelievably they are from a report by a United Nations envoy who came to investigate the effects eight years of austerity has had on poverty in this country. The report found that the Government’s policies of austerity pursued since 2010 have inflicted great misery on millions of children “who are locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.” It found the Government has deliberately chosen to target austerity at the poor and scandalously at the same time diverted money to fund tax cuts for the wealthy instead. At the council we have a clear commitment to tackling poverty and we recognise how culture and creativity can be harnessed to help create more jobs and opportunities to help young people progress and improve their life chances.
Our commitment to supporting the creative sector was one of the many reasons we were successful in attracting Channel 4, as well as the fact West Yorkshire is now increasingly seen as one of the coolest places to live. The creative sector already supports around 53,000 jobs here and that figure is increasing.
We have seen how businesses in the sector recognise the need to work with young people to ensure they become aware of the opportunities available to them. Look at Burberry, who have relocated their global support services from London to Leeds city centre.
This not only means 300 more jobs but, through the Burberry Foundation, it is investing extensively in creative programmes in some of our most disadvantaged schools.
Working alongside Leeds Playhouse, Leeds Young Film, the Hepworth Wakefield and Northern Ballet, Burberry is a fantastic example of a business making a real difference in our communities. Burberry and Channel 4 are just two instances of the enormous benefits attracting companies to locate to Leeds can bring to young people and, in the longer term, the contribution this can make to tackling the growing levels of poverty that austerity is making more and more prevalent in many communities across Leeds.
Coun Judith Blake is Leader of Leeds City Council