Paul Mackie is a doughty advocate for Bradford – and yet is championing plans to merge Bradford Chamber of Commerce with its counterparts in Leeds and York.
Members will decide on Monday February 10, and Paul is pressing for a ‘yes’ vote among the Bradford Chamber’s 1,200 member companies.
If the merger goes through, a new umbrella body – the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce – will come into being immediately.
There has been muttering on the Linkedin business network about Bradford Chamber losing its identity and influence.
But Paul says a merger is needed to meet the changed political and economic landscape and insists a merged body will not dilute Bradford’s clout.
He said: “The political and business services funding landscape has changed. If you’re trying to win funding for business support the Government and other bodies are looking more regionally than locally.”
He cited the failure of last year’s Chamber-led bid to win around £10 million from the Employer Ownership of Skills Fund for local talent academies to develop skills.
Paul said: “With lots of business backing, we put in a fantastic bid for a joined up wide-reaching plan. But it was never going to win because the way the Government is approaching these things means that they’re only going to give it to regions to get capacity and reach of spend over wider areas.
“That was a clear indication that local chambers of commerce had to come together to have a much stronger voice regionally and nationally.”
He insists that Chamber members will notice little difference. Each body will retain its local office; president and programme of events and activities such as economic surveys and local lobbying.
While joining forces will combine some ‘back office’ functions and reduce costs, there are no planned redundancies among the three chambers’ 70 or so staff. In fact, Paul believes that the more region-wide operation of the W&NY Chamber could create jobs.
“Bradford is one of the UK’s strongest chambers due to its leadership, diversity and board of directors and we entered discussions with Leeds and York from a position of strength,” he said.
“I recognise that some Bradford members are concerned but can assure them we are absolutely not going to be swallowed up by Leeds.
“In fact, members will get a better range of services, including wider networking opportunities, and we hope the merger will encourage more businesses to come on board.”
The West and North Yorkshire Chamber will be a ‘holding company’ with a board of 14 directors, including six from Bradford. But it will act as an entity only when lobbying central government and bidding for funds from programmes such as the City Deal.
It will be led by Sandy Needham, Bradford Chamber chief executive, and the merger is supported by Roger Marsh, chairman of the Leeds City Region local enterprise boar, along with leaders of the three local authorities and several local MPs .
“The merger will enable us to work more effectively on issues such as transport and infrastructure needs and will reflect the region-wide work of existing Bradford-based organisations, including Chamber International which is running an export campaign for the city region and the Business Enterprise Fund which supports businesses across West and North Yorkshire, “ said Paul.
What if the merger proposal fails?
Paul said: “If it didn’t happen the future would be very challenging. We need a joined-up approach to be in with a chance of winning funding to help boost business, employment and skills in the three cities.
"We need supporters of the merger to vote so we can create a strong voice across a wider area while not ignoring grassroots issues and needs. We have no intention of abandoning our local focus.”