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YORK will play a major role in the region’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, says a leading business figure.

David Kerfoot, who chairs the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, told The Press that “grit, passion and determination” would also help the city and area pull through.

Mr Kerfoot, who is the High Sheriff of North Yorkshire and a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, said York Central, tourism and the bio-economy would be vital in the future.

He highlighted the plight of local micro-businesses and SMEs suffering due to delays accessing loans which has triggered fears many small businesses could collapse without the support.

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“SMEs make up 97 per cent of our economy of which 80-odd per cent are micro-businesses, so they are the backbone and the complete heart of our economy in York and North Yorkshire.

“City of York, for example, has a really high number of small and micro-businesses, particularly in the visitor economy, in hospitality.”

Tourism, hospitality, micro, dairy and food producers, key elements of the local economy, were all struggling, he said. “We are undoubtedly going to have a lot of casualties in the micro-businesses who are finding it very difficult to get funding.

“My job as chair of the LEP is to constantly bang on the door of Government asking for support. That is not an easy role, given the fact that as each day passes, more and more businesses or sectors seem to be asking for help.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Monday that small firms would be able to get access to 100 per cent taxpayer-backed loans following concerns about the slow access to coronavirus rescue schemes.

The scheme is due to start next week, offering firms loans up to £50,000 within days of applying to ease a backlog of credit checks by banks.

Part of the challenge, Mr Kerfoot added, was to keep the region’s large rural and coastal economy in the Government’s gaze.

“They are very urban and city-centric,” he said. “I am not ruling out City of York. That’s absolutely central; it’s the fulcrum of our region.”

Mr Kerfoot said there were three stages to the Covid-19 crisis.

“At the moment we are trying to stabilise. That hasn’t been achieved yet. That is going to take a lot longer than we anticipated. Then we move to recovery and finally, after quite a few years, we move back towards a growth trajectory.

“That needs a clear recovery plan that encompasses all the regions in the country, both urban and rural, and all the cities, whether large or small, which has to be clearly funded.”

Another big issue, said Mr Kerfoot, was whether large infrastructure projects which had been promised would still happen. But he was confident York Central would continue.

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|An artist’s impression of York Central

“York Central is absolutely key for the region. It is an amazing opportunity. It is right there in the centre, right next to the station. We have a world-class tourist facility that is going to be expanded, and the chance to have commercial, residential and parkland there all together is really too good an opportunity to turn down.”

He said York, with its two world-class universities and FE colleges, had “an incredibly important role to play”.

“We, as a LEP, are pushing the bio economy and circular economy. York has a lot to offer, both from the universities’ point of view and the people we have there to help us drive that and to give us the right skills.

“Could there be an innovation hub at York Central to drive those sectors?” he asked.

“York also has a major role to play in the huge amount of money it brings by being such a key tourism venue and what it has to offer, which in global terms is quite unique.

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York Minster is one of the attractions giving the city global appeal Picture: Nadia Jefferson-Brown

“It has so many great things for people to come and look at and spend time at, so the faster we can get things like that moving back, the faster we’ll get that little bit more money churning around in our local and regional economies.”

Mr Kerfoot said he felt the current crisis would hopefully change people’s shopping habits to support the local economy more.

“People have realised we can’t depend all the time on the global supply chain. It is too fragile.”

Asked how he felt the region would fare in the future, he said: “We are Yorkshire. We have got grit, we have got passion, we have determination and enthusiasm, and we have people who really want to work at it.

“I would never do a job like LEP chairman, let alone High Sheriff, if I didn’t think – on the ground – I could make a difference. That’s what matters.”


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