Written by Sean Anstee, Executive Director for Advisory, Public Affairs & PR
News earlier this month that Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake would be elevated to the Lords was received warmly across the local government family.
Cllr Blake has won plaudits for her determined leadership of the city since taking over the top job in 2015. Along with highly respected CEO Tom Riordan, they have adeptly taken to the task of revolutionising Leeds City Council and making it look (relatively) easy along the way.
Leeds has over 800,000 residents making it second only to Birmingham City Council in the size of the population it serves. And it can point to significant success despite the view of those in the sector that bigger does not necessarily mean better. And with an attitude befitting of a steely Yorkshire determination the Council has diligently gone about its business and secured significant outcomes for its communities.
The most recent Ofsted inspection of children’s services led to an ‘outstanding’ rating – an unprecedented achievement for a UK core city. Channel 4 selected the city to relocate part of its operation out of London despite fierce competition from elsewhere. Private sector employment in Leeds and the number of new business start-ups increased in 2019/20, carbon emissions across the city reduced and the number of primary school children reaching expected standards in reading, writing and maths continued to improve.
With the ascent of the Northern Powerhouse many eyes were on Manchester. But under Cllr Blake’s leadership, Leeds has held its own here too. The West Yorkshire devolution deal was agreed in 2020 and will see the regions first elected Mayor at the next local elections who will assume control of £38m a year for the region’s growth priorities amongst other powers.
Across the north – its cities, counties, towns, and villages – are increasingly speaking as one. Proud and passionate about individual communities but acknowledging too that it is stronger together.
Yet as the churn in civic leaders across the north continues it presents both challenges and opportunities. A challenge because the nature of local government means leaders who conceive ideas are seldom those who see them through, but an opportunity to bring fresh ideas and build new partnerships.
And as Cllr Blake passes the baton on to her successor at this crucial moment for the north, she does so having positioned Leeds to take advantage of the legacy she helped create.