Get Bradford off the branch line for diverse, inclusive growth

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  • Picture of Charlotte Alldritt
    Charlotte Alldritt
    Director of Public Services and Communities, RSA
  • Cities
  • Communities
  • Devolution

“Places like Bradford have had deprivation for 30 years. We need a kick-start… For too long it’s been seen as a problem of the other – the council, that community. It’s got to be our problem, for our city.”

It’s easy to fall into clichés when describing Bradford. It teems with dynamism and energy, and exudes Northern grit, poise and civic pride. Diversity and youthfulness are two of its biggest strengths. Architecturally it is rooted in its industrial heritage. A northern powerhouse, nineteenth century-style.

But Bradford feels misunderstood by central policy makers: “they don’t know who we are” and “they underestimate us. They say, ‘there must be something bad going on here, let’s find it.” Over the last two days we’ve met a range of different people across the city and the district. From the young people at Food Works, an organisation dedicated to supporting people with learning disabilities into work, to the small business owners at Royd Enterprise Park, many of who have risen from the humblest beginnings to create nationwide and globally trading firms. While we saw and heard of significant and complex challenges, we found a city creating a new start.

At Yeme Architects – whose slick, quirky offices wouldn’t have been out of place in the coolest parts of London – we were served a traditional Pakistani breakfast as we spoke with local designers, young professionals, community workers and entrepreneurs. Their drive and belief in the city was palpable. Bradford is a place of creativity, youthful vibrancy and cultural diversity, they argued, and its potential is huge if only the city truly embraced this.

Bradford hasn’t wanted to be defined by its population. So there are 100,000 Asian people living in the city, but no Asian shops in the city centre.” But “if people really understood the demographics [and the market potential] they’d do a lot more.

The new Broadway shopping mall has started to make an inroads here, and is an important symbol of high quality, more inclusive retail investment in the city. At the opening of the new City Park, another recent investment in public realm, Nandos sold out of Halal chicken within three hours, and pubs sold out of beer.

With a population of nearly 530,000 Bradford is, as a district, bigger than Liverpool and Manchester. Over a fifth of residents are under the age of 16 years. Ethnic minorities make up 36% of the total population and there are over 150 languages spoken across the city. However, on almost all the indicators of economic prosperity defined by the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit, Bradford trails Leeds City Region and England averages: 9.5% of the working age population are unemployed, compared to less than 7% in Leeds City Region and less 6% across England as a whole, and median gross weekly pay for full-time workers is barely £460 per week, compared to £480 in the City Region and over £520 per week for England on average.

While there’s “a lot of wealth in Bradford, there’s a lot of deprivation. Food banks have been rising in demand.” It is estimated that a further tightening of the welfare cap will impact 2,590 households in Bradford when it comes into effect in the autumn, while the benefits freeze will affect 82,000 households. The cumulative impact of all pre and post-2015 welfare reforms is estimated to reach £980 per working age adult per year, by 2020. These cut comes on the back of austerity-induced cuts that – as in so many local authorities – will halve the council’s budget by 2020, just at the time by which councils are required to be self-financing under current plans.

In a city where investor confidence needs careful encouragement, relying on business rate growth retention is not an assured strategy. Pooling rates across the Leeds City Region will be essential if both the main urban centres of this functional economic area are to thrive, mutually reinforced by the level of commuter flows between the two cities and their complementary offers. As one senior leader said, “HS2 is important for us. We need Leeds to be prosperous” and welcomed the recent West Yorkshire Combined Authority report calling for Transport for the North to consider including additional stops in its plans. “We need to get Bradford off the branch line,” argues Kersten England, Chief Executive of Bradford City Council, and “think about not just Transport for the North, but ‘Growth for the North’focussing particularly on education standards – perhaps through a Northern Challenge for education, mimicking the London Challenge that resulted in a rapid and significant improvement in the quality of school education in the capital.

Time and again we heard that Bradford schools have been poor for the last 20 or 30 years, failing generations of young people and their families. There are signs that things are starting to turn around, as local people have taken it upon themselves to drive change. At the Carlisle Business Centre, for example, we met a young father who set up and runs a centre for children in the area of Manningham, epicentre of the Bradford riots in 2001. From small beginnings ‘Raising Explorers’ is now the largest provider of its kind in West Yorkshire, providing affordable afterschool childcare, homework support and tutoring, language classes and activities. Open seven days a week and throughout the day during the school holidays, it offers a secure environment for children to learn, play and mix with other cultures and faiths in the community. Raising Explorers is supported by the business advice and flexibility offered by the Centre, a social enterprise run by a spirited group of volunteers committed to the economic and social prosperity of their community; “This places smashes out social capital”.

Similarly, at Royd Enterprise Park we discovered another social enterprise to help local people to set up and grow their own businesses. We spoke to business owners at different stages of their life cycle, supported by the wisdom, flexibility and ‘village’ community spirit fostered by the staff team and fellow tenants. Importantly, the site is an example of how social enterprise can be built on a robust business model, and it reminded me of the examples we encountered with JRF in Malmo and Rotterdam, where the social economy allowed street-by-street inclusion at scale by creating a network of similar activity and support across the city-region.

At the peak of its wealth in the 1880s, Bradford was a global city that signified the place of Britain as leader of the industrial revolution. Since then it has been forced to find and maintain its place in a changing world. For some, this is a process of managing decline. For others, it is a process of renewal and repositioning, starting with an unashamed embracing of its diversity and collective ownership of the challenge of inclusive growth. Such collective ownership extends to Leeds (less than 15 miles down the road), the City Region and – via additional social as well as economic investment – central government. As Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledged on the steps of Downing Street, we need “every single one of our great regional cities” to thrive and prosper, laying the foundations for an inclusive UK economy. 

Charlotte Alldritt is Director of the Inclusive Growth Commission. You can find her on Twitter @CAlldritt

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  • For a city to be economically successful, it has to be relatively accessible to large numbers of people. Bradford fails here because, while plentifully endowed with dual carriageway roads (the envy of any town in Southern England), it has lost its position within the rail network, thanks both to Beeching and its own Local Government. London's success by contrast is built on its rail network, moving roundly 2/3 of the market. Rail has much greater capacity, quality and efficiency than the pneumatic tyred wheel and arguably saved Liverpool from terminal decline.

    Bradford had good rail links (for the time) up to the 1950's as part of the ex-Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway system in the South of the City. It also had in the North access to the Midland Railway system. Local opinion has long suggested the obvious, that of joining the two terminals, Exchange (now Interchange) and Forster Square, perhaps 1000m apart, with an elevated railway, as a "Bradford Crossrail". Such a modestly costing scheme may be compared to London's £16Bn Crossrail, for barely 6 miles of new rail route. Needless to say neither Local nor National Government have seen  merit in integrating Bradford's passenger railways. In fact both have hindered the idea by building a courthouse across one direct route and in not protecting routes from obstructive development.

    One can understand these Northern towns' wish to have HS2 or 3 passing near but they  fail to see their limitations (and excessive costs). Bradford already has the best trans-Pennine line in the Calder Valley route, gently curved and graded and suitable for high speeds. It should push to develop that in conjunction with its own "Crossrail" to give Leeds some competition (and relief).

    Labor Omnia Vincit (Bradford's motto)


  • What on earth do you think the rest of us have been doing?  There are firms which have been successful.  The town was ruined by the removal of most of the trade (cheap labour abroad) and the removal of its beautiful historical buildings.  As for education what about BGS?  There are Asian shops which flourish - what of them?  How about a bit of action and less dreary, useless elementary rhetoric.

  • Great title and topic and good luck! I used to work in Bradford for a number of years in the 1990s and it is potentially a jewel of a city. At that time it seemed to need an injection of belief and civic action.

  • Is the big problem for urban UK,  the challenge on re-building the place and roles of the UK's smaller cities and larger towns? Is, moreover, that challenge in danger of becoming an intractable one? I'm coming around to the view that the city region perspective is the most-likely-to-work option. This was supported by the arguments of lead speaker at our recent launch of the BIG (building Inclusive Growth) Fellows network in Scotland. The speaker was Gordon Matheson MBE,Visiting Professor at the Institute for Future Cities at University of Strathclyde. He is also the ex leader of the City of Glasgow Council and therefore well equipped to offer comment. He began by stating, unequivocally, 'I am a cities man!'. He then went on to elaborate a perhaps more nuanced view whereby cities and adjacent towns can and do best when they grow together. He argued that it need not be the case that a city at the heart of a region can only grow at the cost of the prospects of the adjacent towns. Indeed, the city can be a supporter, even a catalyst of growth in the towns. The speaker reiterated his arguments at the subsequent  (excellent) session of the RSA Commission on Inclusive Growth in Edinburgh this month. The contrasting views aired at the session on the respective merits of city and/or town growth demonstrate that we are as yet some way to go to arrive at  consensus on this theme. The RSA Commission is proving to be a timely sounding board for the airing of these views in pursuit of, hopefully, some sort of consensus across the UK.

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