Leeds: The UK financial powerhouse planning a digital future at the heart of Europe

Tom Riordan, Chief Executive at Leeds City Council, believes that while the city is well placed to help transform the UK’s economic infrastructure, continuing to build relationships with European partners will be key to its ongoing success.
Source: Global Leeds

By Tom Riordan

Tom Riordan is Chief Executive at Leeds City Council

15 Apr 2021

Leeds was recently announced as the home of the UK’s first National Infrastructure Bank (NIB), cementing the city’s position as the biggest financial centre outside of London and as a new hub for driving global green finance and investment. It was no accident that the city was chosen. The decision by the UK Government to base the National Infrastructure Bank in Leeds has been a long time in the making.

Alongside finance and banking, Leeds has quietly transformed its digital ecosystem to become a thriving centre for the tech businesses and data scientists that will help drive the “green industrial revolution” outlined by the UK Government.

The groundwork done in recent years to make the city an attractive destination for businesses and investors has helped build a resilient, broad-based economy that generates £12bn every year. The announcement, made as part of the recent UK budget, shows a huge confidence in the city.

Alongside finance and professional services, Leeds is also a leader in healthcare, health technologies and the digital sector, with frequent cross-sector collaboration helping to drive innovation and growth. Underpinning this in recent years has been a major emphasis by the city on improving digital infrastructure, building international links, and creating a digitally skilled workforce.

“Leeds’s digital sector is now growing faster than anywhere else in the UK. The city is home to over 1,350 digital businesses”

Leeds’s digital sector is now growing faster than anywhere else in the UK. The city is home to over 1,350 digital businesses, including national broadcaster Channel 4 and the British Library, with a combined workforce of over 30,000.

This forward-thinking approach has also led to pioneering work with open data in public health as Leeds hosts some of the world’s largest healthcare data platforms. With four out of five NHS national offices based here, including NHSx and NHS England, which is the largest single health commissioner in the world, the city is the epicentre of UK healthcare decision making. As the home to NHS Digital, the city’s digital capabilities also helped coordinate the heralded Coronavirus vaccine rollout in the UK.

A key piece of the infrastructure which enabled this success has been Leeds Digital Exchange IXP, the only fully independent exchange outside London which links directly to Europe and the USA and has the capacity to route all the UK’s internet traffic, should London go down.

But this isn’t Leeds’ only direct link to Europe. We have many, built through our city links and institutions including our universities and businesses, such as technology consultancy BJSS with offices in Portugal, Danish IT Consultancy Netcompany which opened in Leeds in 2019 and digital transformation business ddroidd with offices in Leeds and Cluj, Romania.

The Open Data Institute (ODI) Leeds has also collaborated with The Kingdom of the Netherlands to create Nothernlands, a conference to create, support, and amplify the cultural links between The Netherlands and the North of England.

In addition, Leeds Digital Exchange IXP itself is also home to the Estonian Honorary Consul which opened in 2018, precisely because of the strong links built through digital collaboration between the two locations.

So, what’s next for Leeds? As a city we are continuing to foster closer working relationships with our European partners. Most recently, we signed a memorandum of understanding with Dortmund based on social, educational, cultural, and economic exchange as both cities share digital synergies, including aspirations of becoming Smart Cities.

“As the home to NHS Digital, the city’s digital capabilities also helped coordinate the heralded Coronavirus vaccine rollout in the UK”

We believe there's much to learn from each other as we explore how digital technology can be used to improve the quality of life in both our cities. Similar partnership agreements are in place with Lille and Brno in the Czech Republic.

We are also proud members of the Eurocities network, which allows us to work on common challenges relating to economic development, health, climate and much more with over 190 cities from 39 different countries across Europe.

Finally, we are developing a ‘Living Lab’ which will include a dedicated Smart Cities Innovation Hub, enabling global technology companies to develop and test innovations prior to wider scale deployment to create improved services and better lives for our citizens.

All of these relationships will not only place Leeds at the heart of the transformation of the UK’s green economic infrastructure but the opportunities and benefits that exist will also be enjoyed, defined, and made possible through the relationships we continue to build as a European and global city.

For more information, visit: https://www.globalleeds.com/

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