Leeds-List: The Best & Most Insightful Guide to Leeds

Why Leeds is a Great Place to do Business

· Ali Turner · Business

Leeds is a great place to live, but actually, it’s just as good for businesses…

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We’re always telling you about why Leeds is a great place to live, but actually, it’s just as good for businesses…

It’s been said that Leeds doesn’t shout about itself enough, and that’s certainly true, especially when it comes to business. Not only is Leeds a great place to work, but it’s also a smart choice when it comes to running a business – in many ways, it’s actually better than the Capital, and it can certainly give our friends across the Pennines a run for their money. Here’s why…

It’s well connected

New Station Entrance

Credit: Ali Turner

Leeds is in a nice little position. It’s directly linked to both London and Edinburgh by road, with M1 and A1 taking you where you want to go, and equally convenient routes to the east and west via the M62. Don’t drive? No problem, the train is also incredibly convenient. You can be in Manchester in an hour, London in two and in Edinburgh in three – which might explain why Leeds train station is the busiest outside of London.

But it’s not just well connected to the rest of the country. Leeds has the fastest growing airport in the UK and it travels to 70 destinations and 30 countries across Europe, North America and Asia, making international travel easy. You can be in Paris in an hour and a half, in New York in eight hours and in Hong Kong in thirteen and a half hours. And while we may be inland, we have good connections to Hull, through which 23% of all England’s cargo passes, which is a key consideration when it comes to manufacturing.

When you consider Leeds within the wider region, it has even more potential. Not only does it have the beautiful Yorkshire countryside on its doorstep, but it also sits at the heart of the Leeds City Region, which has 109,000 businesses, a skilled workforce of 1.4 million people and a Gross Value Added (GVA) of over £60.5 billion. Why wouldn’t you want to do business here?

It’s growing… fast

Leeds Skyline

Size isn’t everything, but there’s a lot to be said for it. Leeds is the third largest city in the UK with a population of 751,500 and a GVA of £20 billion. That’s a strong base to build on – and it’s expected to grow by 17.1% over the next 10 years according to the UK Powerhouse report from Irwin Mitchell and the Centre for Economic & Business Research.

There are already some very encouraging signs. According to the EY Attractiveness Survey 2016, foreign direct investments into Leeds have increased massively over the last two years, taking us from the bottom of their table of core cities to third and now second place – which means we’re one of the most attractive cities in the UK for foreign investment. And that fact has also been recognised by The Business Location Index, as Leeds was ranked as the fourth most attractive city outside of London for inward investment.

The same rapid growth can be seen in the city’s businesses. In fact, in November 2015, the Council revealed that there had been a 16% increase in the number of businesses in Leeds in the previous year – that’s the equivalent of 1 new business in every 6. It’s also twice the national average, which stands at 8% according to the Business Population Estimates 2015, and it even topped Manchester, which enjoyed a 13% increase in the same period.

All in all, Leeds is on the up and up, with foreign investment coming in, big businesses moving in and new ones starting up – which makes it a very attractive proposition indeed.

It’s attracting big names

John Lewis Leeds

Credit: Andrew McCaren

At first glance, it’s the retail and leisure sector that stands out. First there was Trinity Leeds, which was the only large-scale shopping centre to open in 2013, and it tempted all manner of retailers and restauranteurs out of London for the first time. Think Rox, D&D and Cabana, to name but a few. Land Securities’ investment in the city renewed confidence after the recession, and we’ve seen a host of new openings since, including big names like Iberica, Pieminister, Five Guys and Byron.

Leeds is now the third best place to shop outside of London – something that’s set to improve even further, as Hammerson has now opened the new £150 million retail development Victoria Gate last autumn, complete with a landmark John Lewis store.

But it’s not just the retail industry that’s attracting big names. Over recent years, we’ve seen prominent businesses like Sky moving into the city, with both their betting and gaming office on Wellington Place, and their new technology hub at Leeds Dock. While businesses like Equifax and Burberry have moved their operations into the city – the latter will be making a £50 million investment, building a state of the art manufacturing and weaving facility in the South Bank.

Add to that a host of exciting new developments, with the £200 million Central Square project, a mixed use development from Vastint on the 8.5 hectare plot of Tetley brewery, and of course, MEPC’s Wellington Place, which is ever-growing as they continue in their mission to create a 1.5 million square foot mixed office, residential and leisure space.

Leeds is developing a reputation for attracting big names and big investments, so any business that chooses to move here in the future will be in good company.

It’s the biggest financial hub outside of London

Leeds Building Society

Everyone knows that Leeds is the biggest financial hub outside of London. Two of the UK’s biggest building societies are based here, with both Leeds and Yorkshire calling the city home, while First Direct chose our Northern hub over the capital. In fact, Leeds has over 30 national and international banks, as well as the Bank of England’s only base outside London.

Need more convincing? No problem. According to The City UK, 12,000 people work in banking in Leeds. That’s a whacking great number, trumping the likes of Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. But it’s not just banking. Leeds is also an incredibly popular base for accountants, with 200 companies in this sector alone. The big four accountancy firms, PwC UK, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG, all have a strong presence here, and most of the UK’s biggest legal practices have offices in Leeds too.

There are 122,200 financial and business services jobs in Leeds, which makes it an extremely attractive proposition for individuals working within these industries, resulting in a large pool of skilled workers and a constant stream of graduates from the city’s universities. And that, in turn, attracts more businesses.

It’s ruddy good for legal, manufacturing & health too


The financial sector is just one of the diverse range of industries that thrive in Leeds – and that diversity helped to limit the impact of the recession.

Leeds has long been known as one of the biggest legal centres outside of London, and a recent report from CBRE confirmed it, placing us in the top 10 for both office space and number of fee earners. There are 150 law firms in Leeds, but the most prominent are the Big Six – Addleshaw Goddard, DLA Piper UK, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons, Walker Morris and Squire Patton Boggs. Two of these firms have recently expanded their Leeds offices, with Addleshaw Goddard taking 51,500 square foot of offices in Sovereign Square and Squire Patton Boggs securing a 32,900 square foot space in the recently completed 6 Wellington Place.

We have a long history with manufacturing too – and it hasn’t diminished with time, as Leeds is still the third biggest manufacturing sector in the UK, with the likes of Airedale, the UK’s leading manufacturer of air conditioning, Brandon Medical, global suppliers of medical lighting systems, and Stephenson Group, a world leader in specialty chemicals, all calling Leeds home. And let’s not forget Harrison Spink. This forward-thinking bed manufacturer invented an innovative spring that’s now used the world over. They also have their own 300 acre farm where they rear sheep and grow their hemp and flax, as well as their own forest, where they get all their wood. How very Yorkshire.

And finally, the health sector is thriving. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is one of the largest providers of specialist hospital services in the country, covering over 100 specialties. It’s also Europe’s largest teaching hospital trust and employs 16,000 people. Add the Department of Health office at Quarry Hill, the only one outside of London, and it’s fair to say the health sector is going strong in Leeds. It’s helped to pave the way for a new specialism within one of our fastest growing sectors – tech.

And it’s growing into a serious tech hub

Tech is huge in Leeds – in fact, the city has a digital GVA of £671 million according to Tech Nation 2016, and employment in this sector has grown by 7% between 2011 and 2014.

There are 3,500 digital businesses in Leeds, including massive names like Sky Betting and Gaming, who’ve recently committed to investing £11 million in Yorkshire. It will see them setting up a new customer hub in Leeds and launching a new commercial and software academy which aims to keep talent in the region. That, in turn, will bring 100 new jobs to Leeds, along with the 40 academy places, and will see them expanding their offices in Wellington Place, taking them up to 65,000 square foot.

But that’s just one example. Leeds is home to the likes of Rockstar, the video game developers behind Grand Theft Auto, as well as a host of creative and digital agencies, like Rabbit Hole, Twentysix and Stickyeyes. And we’re strong on data too, with both Leeds Institute for Data Analytics and the Open Data Institute exploring new ways to turn information to our advantage. They’re accompanied by big names, like CallCredit and Equifax, both of which are leading fintech companies. With so many high profile businesses, it’ll come as no surprise that there are 2,000 data scientists in Leeds – that’s the largest concentration of them in any UK city outside of London.

Then there’s the digital health specialists, the inevitable love child of two of the city’s most prominent sectors. The likes of Emis Group and TPP, two clinical software businesses who dominate the market, both call Leeds home, alongside BJSS – the IT consultancy that helped the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre to create their data systems, which now hosts 80 million patient records and handle over 12 billion messages a month.

It’s got even more Grade A office space in the pipeline

The latest Leeds Crane Survey from Deloitte revealed that office construction is at its highest since 2007, with 865,000 square foot under construction, creating even more space for businesses and helping to cement our position in the Northern marketplace. They estimated that around 579,000 square foot would become available in 2016 – and that comes off the back of two years of good, solid development, with around 200,000 square foot of office space completed in 2014 and 2015 consecutively.

Compare that to London. They too were set to have a bumper year in 2016, with a staggering 14.2 million square foot of office space under construction – but that follows 4 years of low development, with only 15 million square foot completed between 2011 and 2015. Bearing in mind that London operates on a completely different scale to Leeds, that’s actually incredibly low and it’s led to a serious shortage of office space in the capital. So much so, that 42% of their new space has already been let (compared to just 27% in Leeds) – which just goes to show how high demand is, and with high demand, come high prices.

Depending on where you’re based in London, you’re looking at rents of between £50 and £100 per square foot for a high quality, air conditioned office. In comparison, rents in Leeds are a snip, coming in at around £27.50 per square foot. That’s cheaper than Manchester and Birmingham, which sit at the £34 mark.

From a cost perspective, Leeds definitely has the advantage – businesses can get a lot more for their money here, allowing them to reduce costs and create a great working environment for their staff.

It’s got a real start-up culture

Independents Leeds Feast

Credit: Jessie Leong

Leeds absolutely embraces start-ups. From the universities, who encourage entrepreneurial spirit by offering help and support to students who want to start their own business, to the Leeds City Enterprise Partnership (LEP), who offer funding, training and advice to new and growing businesses, there’s a real sense of possibility here.

In fact, Leeds had the second highest number of new start ups in 2014, according to the Start-up Cities Index 2015, which ranks the top 25 UK cities outside of London. Leeds had a massive 4,275 new start ups, with a respectable 41.8% survival rate, a number that puts us in the top 10. In comparison, Manchester had just 3525 new start-ups, with a 35.9% survival rate – the lowest out of all 25 cities ranked. It’s an interesting comparison, because Manchester is always perceived as being one step ahead of us, but actually, in many ways it’s the other way round.

Our affinity with start-ups means that Leeds is the perfect place to grow your business – and that’s something that may well appeal to disillusioned London start ups. Recent research from the Sussex Innovation Centre showed that 66% of small businesses consider relocating from London within a year of starting up, with 62% of them saying that rising rents would hold back growth and 20% suggesting that they were held back by a lack of proximity to like-minded businesses. Could Leeds be their new home? You bet it could.

It’s got a solid support network in place

There’s a real focus on helping people to start and grow their businesses in Leeds, and you can see it in the city’s support networks. They’re incredibly diverse, offering everything from help and advice to start up loans and funding.

The LEP is a great example. They cover a huge spectrum, ranging from funding for training and purchasing business assets to mentorship programmes, support helplines and business accelerators like Start and Grow, which helps businesses get off the ground, with one-to-one assessments, a personalised support programme and help with external funding applications.

These services are designed, not just to help people launch businesses, but also to ensure their survival and future growth – because the need for support doesn’t end once the business is up and running. In fact, research from the Sussex Innovation Centre has shown that it actually increases over time, with interest in access to skilled counsel rising from 41% to 54% after one to two years. Similarly, the number of business owners who felt these services were of little value dropped from 28% to 15%.

Round Foundry Media Centre

So far, LEP have helped over 4,300 businesses, as well as handing out £2 million in training grants through their skills service. And they’re not the only ones working to support businesses in Leeds – the city’s universities are also getting in on the action. Leeds Beckett University has an Enterprise Innovation Academy that offers one-to-one mentoring, funding and networking opportunities to students and graduates, while the University of Leeds offers Spark, a dedicated service for students looking to start a business, complete with training, scholarships, workshops and mentoring.

Even that just touches the surface though. You’ve also got the likes of Round Foundry, Leeds Digital Hub and Duke Studios creating affordable, collaborative spaces for independent businesses to thrive in, as well as a new tech hub, in the form of Future Labs. The latter is a not-for-profit organisation that won a £3.7 million government investment and secured £7.8 million in private funding to create a 6-storey tech incubator in the heart of the city.

Add to that a host of business support facilities at Leeds Central Library, the world’s largest free business accelerator for start-ups in the form of Entrepreneurial Spark, and even more industry specific services, like East Street Arts, the Leeds Food & Drink Academy and Leeds Fashion Initiative, and you’ve got an environment that welcomes, nurtures and enables talented entrepreneurs.

It’s a great place to work

Wellington Place

Aside from the rather obvious work-life balance benefits of working here, which you can find out all about by browsing Leeds-List, the city also has a number of financial perks. After all, it’s a hell of lot cheaper to live here than in London.

Average monthly rents in Yorkshire and Humber were £628 to March 2016 according to the HomeLet Rental Index, but in Greater London, that number shoots up to £1,536 – and rents are rising at a faster rate in the capital too, so you could be even more out of pocket in the future. If you’re looking at buying, you’re in the same boat, with the average value of a semi-detached home in Leeds coming in at £181,123 according to Zoopla, while the same thing in London costs an average of £673,115 – prices like that make Leeds a very appealing proposition indeed.

Of course, salaries are higher in London. According to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, Office for National Statistics, Leeds folk earn an average of £446 a week, while Londoners earn £870 a week. But while you may be earning twice as much, you’ll be paying three times as much – so overall, Leeds is better value. Also, salaries in Leeds are rising faster than London. According to vacancies posted on CV-Library in 2015, salaries rose by 4.7% in Leeds, compared to just 2.5% in London. And if you’re in the digital industry, you could be in for an even bigger bump, as Tech Nation 2016 found that Leeds had the highest advertised salary growth in the UK, at 29%.

That’s a lot of numbers, but it all boils down to one thing – Leeds offers better value than London, which makes it a smart decision for employees and businesses alike.

It’s constantly producing new talent

Leeds has three strong universities, as well as vocational institutions like Leeds College of Art, Leeds College of Music, Leeds College of Building and the new UTC, which will train the manufacturers and engineers of the future. The result is a constant flow of new talent, with 65,000 students working their way towards the qualifications that businesses want.

The University of Leeds is the most prominent. It was in the top 100 of the QS world rankings in 2015 and sits at number 16 in the UK according to the Guardian’s university league table in 2016. As a member of the Russell Group, it’s one of the best research universities in the world, and currently has 49 active Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, the third highest number in the UK, which means businesses can tap into their research expertise.

Leeds Trinity and Leeds Beckett University, while further down the tables at 84 and 116 consecutively, continuously produce high quality candidates – and all three have high employability rates, with 97% of Leeds Beckett graduates, 96% of University of Leeds graduates and 95% of Leeds Trinity University graduates employed within 6 months.

When you look to the wider Leeds City Region, the numbers get even better. There are nine universities in total, and they’re generating 9% of all UK graduates. What’s more, 20% of them are studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects. So Leeds’ businesses have an opportunity to capture graduates as they leave university and shape them into the employees they want.

It’s got space to grow

Wellington Place

It’s not often that you find a city with loads of space, ripe for investment, but Leeds has just that. The South Bank is Europe’s largest city centre brownfield regeneration site, standing at a total of 136 hectares – and while we’ve already seen a huge transformation, there are still 36 hectares of Brownfield land ready for development – it could hold 4,000 new homes, with enough space to create 35,000 jobs.

But while the South Bank may be the city’s most famous regeneration project, it isn’t the only one afoot. Wellington Place continues to grow apace. In fact, MEPC have just appointed Wates Construction to begin work building 3 Wellington Place, which alongside five floors of office space, will have a brand new restaurant, and once that is complete, they will begin on the next building as they continue towards their goal of creating 1.5 million square foot of commercial, retail, leisure and residential accommodation.

Then there’s the Leeds City Region Enterprise Zone. Encompassing 142 hectares of development land along the East Leeds Link Road, it has huge potential – and not just because of the location. The Enterprise Zone is supported by £8.57 million funding from the government’s Building Foundations for Growth programme, which means companies choosing to locate here can benefit from a huge range of incentives, from reduced rates to simplified planning applications and business support.

Businesses coming into the city can also apply for grants of up to £500,000 through Leeds City Region Business Growth Programme, to help with the cost of relocating, fitting out premises and investments in equipment. So when it comes to moving your business here, there are plenty of perks.

Cover, office space, great place to work and new talent images copyright Contakt Photography. Start-up image copyright Jessie Leong.