Bradford’s City of Culture year will not be a “silver bullet” for the economy without other investment, a former council chief has said.

Kersten England, who is now chair of Bradford Culture Company, the charitable organisation behind Bradford 2025, revealed her thoughts on how to build a brighter future. 

It was part of an event on think tank Resolution Foundation’s new strategy to stop the UK from being a “stagnation nation”.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin, pictured speaking at the eventMayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin, pictured speaking at the event (Image: Newsquest)

The organisation has analysed data on how to improve the lives of people on low to middle incomes.

They claimed the average household could be £8,300 richer by following some of the new book's recommendations.

It draws from good practices seen in other countries such as France spreading investment between its secondary cities - like Toulouse - and the capital.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Graph showing how France invests in other large cities outside its capital vs the UKGraph showing how France invests in other large cities outside its capital vs the UK (Image: Newsquest)

Speaking on Thursday, Torsten Bell, CEO at the foundation, said: “It’s asking why we all feel like it’s not going very well. How do we understand our own strengths but also our weaknesses?” 

Resolution Foundation economist Hannah Slaughter said: “We’re over a decade into economic stagnation.  The UK is a particularly bad place to be poor. The living standards of our poor people are below the living standards of France and Germany. Without getting this growing again we can’t lift the living standards of the whole country.”

The former chief Bradford Council shared her belief that the district can only succeed if it focuses on ways to make people’s lives better.

Ms England said: “The thing that hits me between the eyes really, we haven’t had an integrated strategy around children. We urgently need to rethink childhood and ensure our children who are workers of the future actually are getting the right start in life.

“When you look at the impact of Covid and the statistics of children on free school meals, there’s 28 per cent of primary school kids on free school meals and 40 per cent of secondary school kids. Go figure where we’re going to be if we cannot get around that issue.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

“The school estate is crumbling and the curriculum and amenities, the curriculum is not putting our children in the future, it’s lagging. Examination boards, regulation, it’s not focused on the right thing.”

She said Government incentives would help families with the premium of green goods, such as electric cars, amid Net Zero targets.

Meanwhile she backed former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s call for the Government’s two child benefits cap to be removed.

“Speaking from a district where there are a large number of large families, we can absolutely see the impact of that,” Ms England said.

She added: “If you were to look at some of the housing estates, there’s one bus route in the night, they’re lucky if they’ve still got a primary school there, and the retail centre is boarded up and trade through bars. That’s the beginning of the journey to economic activity.

“I would completely agree with the people that say City of Culture is not a silver bullet, it does not transform your city, it has to sit in the context of all the other things we’ve been talking about - long term placemaking, sector development, transport, and so on.

“However confidence is the only thing that drives economic growth. This place has been down on itself for too long and the country has been down on it for too long. It’s our opportunity to reposition the understanding of Bradford district, and to increase prospects - whether that is heritage, sending their kids to study here, tourism, businesses coming to locate here, investment. It will be a fantastic year but it’s just the fifth year of a 10 year cultural journey."

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Rozina Breen, editor in chief and CEO of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, picturedRozina Breen, editor in chief and CEO of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, pictured (Image: Newsquest)

Rozina Breen, editor in chief and CEO of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, said journalism is a bedrock of a functioning and transparent democracy at local level as well as national level.

“If you follow what happened in America in the election of Trump, many people talk about local news deserts contributing to gaps in knowledge and people following their echo chambers.

“There is talent lost to the South. That is having an impact on economic value but creative knowledge."

Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin said: “I can imagine the work in and around the city centre hasn’t gone unnoticed but to make progress there does have to be disruption. Bradford Live, Darley Street Market, renovation of the media museum, all demonstrate the confidence the council has in the city.

“Plans for a new rail station putting Bradford on the main line - we won’t have to reverse out - we’ll finally be connecting young people to the opportunities they deserve. City centre homes in the Bradford city village. A region of learning, reforming our school system to support people to get the knowledge they need.

“There’s a real sense we can achieve something different.”