Leeds: one of the cities which puts the Great in Britain.

Leeds: one of the cities which puts the Great in Britain. By the respected financial commentator, John Swinfield

Leeds: one of the cities which puts the Great in Britain. By the respected financial commentator, John Swinfield

One of my favourite cities in Britain is Leeds. It’s a big, bustling, northern conurbation, a star in Yorkshire’s proud crown. If any city can call itself a northern power-house then it has to be Leeds. It has a magnificent industrial heritage and played an axial role in Britain’s commercial success. Wool was at one time its principal trade helping to make it one of the foremost players in Britain’s Industrial Revolution. Leeds, in west Yorkshire, was a major mill town, its reputation famous across the world. Situated on the mighty River Aire, whose fast-flowing waters drove many of the spinning mills, Leeds is an ancient city: in the 5th century it was the Kingdom of Elmet. As a maritime historian, as well as being a business columnist, I would also recommend a visit to the Royal Armouries, in Leeds, which is on the south bank of the  River Aire, and which houses Britain’s national collection of arms and artillery. It’s a fascinating must-see for historians and just the plain nosy!

Some years ago, Leeds entirely re-invented itself as a key financial centre, becoming one of the most important players in finance, insurance, banking, the law and administration. After London, Leeds is one of the largest financial centres in the UK. Its financial, legal and service sector is worth more than £2.1 billion (probably a greater figure now, as that figure was recorded in 2011). It has 30 national and international banks.

Manufacturing, high-tech, science-based industries and a strong academic and educational sector, have all added considerably to its prosperity. Leeds has four leading universities, a clutch of other educational colleges and institutions, Leeds College of Art, and a student and academic population which is one of the largest in Britain. Such factors have given Leeds an enviably robust academic and educational sector which has brought a crucial A+ factor to its social demographic, greatly enhancing its cultural and intellectual firepower, and further contributing to its commercial prosperity.

The thriving city centre of Leeds boasts some of the biggest and best names in retailing and it has taken full advantage of the ’24-Hour economy,’ with a host of top-flight restaurants, hotels, bars and night clubs. It is well-served by a motorway and rail network and the second phase of HS2 (Britain’s high-speed rail project, designed to connect London to Britain’s northern cities) will bring myriad commercial benefits, though it’s fair to say that this section of HS2, one of the world’s most prestigious civil engineering  projects, might be delayed as a consequence of Brexit. Sooner, or later, however, it’s likely it will happen – simply because Leeds is such an important city in Britain’s overall economic landscape. And talking of landscape, Leeds has some of Britain’s finest scenery right on its doorstep – as evidenced by its thriving holiday and tourist sectors.

John Swinfield