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Leeds or Leverkusen?

This morning I decided to ditch the car near Hyde Park (no, the one in Leeds before you ask) and walk through the university campus to my city centre office. University campuses are special places, particularly at this time of year. Students kick their way through early autumn leaves on their way to ivy-clad lecture theatres full of hope for the future.

Buoyed with a good coffee from a pop-up stand outside the Union and my 20 minute yomp, I logged in to find a Tweet from the jolly clever and nice folk at the Centre for Cities. A new report - Competing with the continent: how UK cities compare with their European counterparts. It was a top notch piece of research but I did start to feel a little icky. A bit like reading a red-top on the beach in Puerto Pollensa whilst European sun seekers around you devour Das Bild or Le Monde. Or the day after the referendum when I walked through St. Pancras station and was convinced that the French were sniggering at me.

So what did it say? Well, there’s lots of money and stuff going on in London but in many regional UK cities we have relatively low skills, low productivity and a fairly patchy knowledge economy. Now Leeds, a city I am proud to have worked in for 15 years, did get a mention. We’ve got lots of people like me working in business services; roughly the same as in a Cologne or Essen I’ll have you know. But so many of our urban areas are way down the list I am afraid.

Some questions. What more can our universities do to feed this clear demand in many of our regional cities for a higher stock of human capital to boost productivity? What more can they do to help local people up-skill? What role for recruiters like me to attract and retain our bright young things to regional cities rather than lose them to London? What role the local planning authority to better link city centres to rural hinterlands?

In the war for investment, trade and talent can our great (Northern particularly) cities hang on to their skilled workers, develop their local knowledge base and attract new talent from beyond current national boundaries? Much of this argument might well be obsolete given that millennials will I suspect gladly swop home ownership and local identity for an international more nomadic existence, but today I personally remain positive.

I have the fresh faces of Leeds Freshers to thank for that.
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