Industry in Yorkshire is “digging its own grave” by not investing it skills for its own employees, according to a senior West Yorkshire politician.
The comments were made by Kirklees Council cabinet member Peter McBride, during a heated discussion between councillors and businesspeople about the future of industry in the region.
An emerging industrial strategy, which would focus on how to increase productivity in the region over the coming years, was discussed at this week’s Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) annual meeting.
But, despite overall support for the strategy, Coun McBride argued that more needed to be done to plug the skills gap in the region.
He said: “Skills are important, but I see no evidence that anything is being done about it.
“Industry notoriously doesn’t invest in skills and, in that way, it is digging its own grave – this is particularly true in West Yorkshire.
“There is a huge opportunity because there is going to be massive growth very soon, based on housing proposals and local plans.
“That will produce 150,000 houses over a 10 year period.
“Network Rail are also about to invest £3 billion in this area, the majority in Kirklees. We have never had that degree of investment at one time.
“Another huge industry that is growing is the health industry. We are doing nothing in the skills in this area.
“We have an ability to affect it, but we don’t – there are two huge areas of growth we are doing very little about and we ought to.”
WYCA director of policy Alan Reiss said: “I think there are examples that we could put forward about activity taking place to increase skills, but I don’t think there is any doubt that we need to do more, there is a deficit that we haven’t done enough so far to make sure that the skills that are being offered by our institutions the skills that are needed by employers.
“‘People’ is one of the key foundations about the local industrial strategy – this will help increase the skills of people in the area for the long term.”
Another panel member, Ian Cherry, said many companies in the region were investing in skills and training for its own employees.
He added: “I want to pick on up Coun McBride’s point about businesses do invest in training. Businesses do invest in training. It would be naive for us to think people working for us are not the future of our business.
“We should reflect on that sweeping statement.”
Coun McBride responded: “I’m sure that’s true.
“But, over a 30 or 40 year period in Britain as a whole, particularly in our regions, businesses do not invest enough in skills.
“My comparisons are with France, Germany and the United States, and it is important for us to invest in our own skills.
“There are some wonderful companies do who exactly that, and they are brilliant, but unfortunately it is a minority.”
The industrial strategy is set to be introduced this summer and consultation with businesses in the region is ongoing.
Mr Reiss had earlier told the meeting: “Some of the conclusions we are likely to draw are that there is a sense of opportunity – while data shows Leeds City Region faces a number of challenges, the prize is huge.
“We are showing there are levers we can pull that will increase productivity. There is a great innovation ecosystem in the region, so if we can increase the number of those, it will help increase our economic output.
“If we can increase this in an inclusive way, we can grow the economy to make sure that as many people as possible can benefit from it.
“The clean growth agenda is a nationally significant area for energy generation. We have an opportunity to lead the way on green growth.
“How is this region going to contribute to artificial intelligence, clean growth, mobility and an ageing society.”