Leeds council leader hopes new infrastructure bank might give city ‘sympathetic ear’ for mass transit

A new national infrastructure bank being in Leeds could create jobs and give the city a “sympathetic ear” from Government when it comes to its own spending plans for big projects.

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 5:06 pm

That’s according to Leeds City Council leader James Lewis who gave his response to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget announcement this afternoon, which outlined plans for a new Government-backed financial institution to be set up in Leeds.

As part of the Spring budget – the first since the onset of Covid-19 just over a year ago – Mr Sunak also announced the furlough scheme would be extended to the autumn, while a discount on business rates would also be continued.

While he welcomed these announcements, Coun Lewis warned there was no long-term commitments on council spending, meaning council tax in the city would be “stretched further”.

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Leader of Leeds City Council James Lewis.

“The good news for Leeds is the National Infrastructure Bank,” he said. “It shows our prominence as a financial centre.

“Alongside big institutions like Channel 4 and the British Library, it shows we are a city people want to come to.”

So what is the National Infrastructure bank? The Government says such an institution would support its plans for a ‘green industrial revolution’ while also supporting local and regional economic growth.

But what will it mean for the people of Leeds?

“We are going to be looking to make sure there are opportunities for local people to be looking for jobs,” he said. “It’ll be a new institution, it will create jobs – both working in the bank itself and the economic ecosystem that grows around it.

“It’s the latest in a run of institutions coming to Leeds. We are an attractive city and a lot of talented people work here.

“We have recently published our mass transit plans, which we will develop our bid for. After decades of not making progress on mass transit, hopefully having the Government’s infrastructure bank in Leeds will mean we have a sympathetic ear when it comes to some of our own projects.

“That is a side effect, and we know we have to deliver a cost effective bid when it comes to something like this.”

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) announced back in January that it had been working on plans for a multi-billion pound, nine-line, rail-based system that could be built over the next decade and a half. No funding has yet been secured for the scheme.

Coun Lewis said a site had not yet been identified for the bank, but added the council would look at options with developers.

The Government also announced its furlough scheme would be extended until September this year. Coun Lewis added: “It’s welcome the scheme will be continued beyond the restrictions, however, we estimate there are 40,000 in Leeds on the furlough scheme and it would be a concern for us if, when the scheme ends, not everyone will have a job to go back to.

“We have seen 70,000 people on Universal Credit in Leeds, which is a huge increase since beginning of the pandemic, and we need to know what the medium to long term prospects are for people out of work.”

Coun Lewis added there had been a lack of commitment to long term financial settlements for local councils or social care.

“There is huge pressure on the social care sector,” he said. “With the low pay and insecurity for people in the social care sector, it is a shame that these were the people we were out clapping, but there is nothing in there for them.

“Potentially, Government spending will fall in the years ahead. This will simply mean council tax will stretch further and further.”