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Bold plan to rebuild and ‘reset’ local economy after covid

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Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Zahir Irani

'Bradford can take advantage of change in political attitudes'

The University of Bradford’s Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Zahir Irani has set out a blueprint for economic recovery for the region, in the wake of the pandemic.

The plan is outlined in full in the latest issue of Bradford Means Business.

Prof Irani, who heads up the Bradford Economic Recovery Board, which was set up by Bradford Metropolitan Borough Council to create a plan to co-ordinate the district’s efforts, said: “The Covid-19 crisis has presented challenges that have been unlike anything any of us have had to deal with before. Its impact across the board has been devastating, with a considerable loss of many lives, affecting people’s physical and mental wellbeing and taking away personal liberties. The challenge now is for everyone; how we begin to recover and start moving forward in the same direction as a community.”

Prof Iran joined the University in 2016 and has a strong track record in business, having been dean of business schools for many years in Bradford and London, as well as working as a consultant for companies large and small. He has also worked in government, being co-opted into the Cabinet Office under Prime Minister David Cameron. He is also one of the most prolific academics in the UK, regularly ranking in league tables for his research.

He puts equipping the area’s young and diverse population with skills and confidence to succeed at the heart of the recovery plan, together with supporting local business and leveraging the area’s cultural assets to spur economic growth.

Bradford Council will now work with its partners in the district, the city region and central government to maximise these opportunities to support residents and businesses. The plan focuses actions and investment on education and skills to develop human capital.

Prof Irani outlined a number of ‘strands’ to the plan, including:-

  • Upskilling employees, particularly the young
  • Encouraging new start-ups and ‘growth sectors’
  • Committing to a green, sustainable economy
  • Invest in education
  • Promote a greater sense of ‘Place’ for the district, harnessing its unique historical and geographic heritage

He said: “There was a significant increase in the number of start-ups [during the first lockdown], a significant increase in the amount of business registrations, a significant increase in business bank accounts opened.

“I want people coming to Bradford because we have a conducive culture and environment to support business development, start-up and growth.

“Bradford is more than the city centre; we’ve got some fantastic towns around the district. We know Covid is going to change the way people commute, the way they go to work, and we want the Bradford pound to be multiplied and be worth more than it is. We need to be clear what that distinguishing offer is for our towns and cities.

“I have no problem in saying that I want to exercise appropriate localism. We want people to spend money in Bradford, we want people to bring their money here, we want people to bring their ideas, while recognising there will be a changing role for our high streets.

Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Metropolitan Borough Council, said: “We would like to thank Professor Zahir Irani and board members for their hard work and commitment to this agenda.

“Our Economic Recovery Plan takes account of the profound changes in the public health and economic context and sets out the actions we need to take to recover the economic progress we were making before Covid-19.

“We believe the current economic crisis can be repurposed. Our ability to do this is helped by the big change in political attitudes we have seen since Covid-19 with bolder economic and social strategies dominating policy debates around the world. The pandemic is our chance to reset our economy to create a healthier, more equitable and more sustainable future for all.”

In 2020, Professor Irani was named by The Sunday Times as a leading Bradford influencer.

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