The most successful city you’ve never heard of…
I’m going to describe a city and ask you to guess where it might be.
- It has an economy worth £8.3bn – bigger than Nottingham or Leicester
- Growing faster than the UK – 5.7% increase 2008-2011 compared to UK 3.8%
- Nearly a quarter of its population is under 16 years of age
- It has the highest broadband speed of any UK city
- There is a higher than average manufacturing base, producing a fifth of the district’s economic output
- It is home to over 40 large companies with a combined turnover of £30bn and 370,000 UK jobs
- It is a global city – 100+ nationalities living and working in the District
- It has seen the highest growth in self-employment of any city in the UK
- It has a Top 100 Global Business School
It sounds impressive doesn’t it? So is it Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool or Newcastle?
What if I told you it was Bradford?
Yes, that’s right, the grim up north, there but for the grace of God go I, city that Anita Singh at the Daily Telegraph called: “the lazy TV executive’s go-to destination for racial disharmony”.
This week its Chamber of Commerce got a new president in the shape of Paul Mackie, and he started his tenure by decrying the ‘economic mediocrity’ prevailing in many UK towns, and picking up on this outside view of Bradford as a ‘failed city’.
“Bradford businesses should not accept that our city is the failure as viewed by many commentators and as portrayed in many publications. It should not be classed as a city with special needs or a city that relies on hand-outs to survive.
“Bradford needs to be the best in class for what it does and we all need to tell people about how good we are both individually and collectively. We need to be proud once again but those words need conviction. We need to walk the walk.”
Bradford does have significant problems, but as someone who spent five years working in the city and who continues to work with many Bradford-based clients, I share Paul’s view.
But addressing and changing the attitudes from within isn’t the city’s biggest challenge. The biggest issue that the city faces is how it tackles its external perception, because that remains a huge barrier to investment and growth.
Currently it’s portrayed as it was in the disingenuous and divisive Channel 4 series, ‘Make Bradford British’, and what we saw in the more balanced BBC2 two-part documentary, ‘Bradford: City of Dreams’.
It seems the most the city can hope for in a shift in perceptions, is from a racially divided, post-industrial, ghost town to that of a bit of a rough diamond.
If you were to ask many of the city’s residents and businesses I think they would take that right now.
But that is not good enough – and, more to the point, it’s not accurate. As a start Bradford needs to use the positives outlined at the beginning of this piece, along with a few others, to demonstrate that it is putting the groundwork in to become a successful city of the future, rather than a recovering city for today.
It needs to use its youthful, multi-cultural population, its £260 million shopping centre (due on site before the end of the year), its award-winning city centre public space and water feature (the largest in Europe), its entrepreneurial nature, its strong manufacturing base and its connectivity, as the foundations for what a future city should be built on.
It should get used to talking about these as successes rather than jealously guarding them for fear of someone else taking the credit.
And that brings me onto the real job at hand, which is to get people outside of Bradford to talk positively about the city. Bradford can only bang its own drum so loud. It needs external supporters to speak on its behalf.
Bradford needs others to share the city’s successes for it on the widest-possible scale – and that means embracing the city region.
Leeds is not shy in shouting about the key developments happening in the city in 2013 and Bradford needs to be part of the success story that it is selling to a global audience. If the Leeds City Region is going to market itself, then Bradford needs to be at the forefront and be the first word out of its mouth and not an afterthought.
In short, unless Bradford is spoken about in the same context as the wider regional success story it has little chance of convincing people that it is turning the corner on its own.