Ignoring the hidden potential of women is ‘harming UK’s regional economies’

Jude Kelly, cultural director of Liverpool’s International Festival for Business, tells audience at the global event  that for devolution to work it had to be inclusive. Tony McDonough reports

Jude Kelly
Jude Kelly, cultural director of Liverpool’s International Festival for Business. Picture by Tony McDonough

 

Woman are 50% of the workforce but male-dominated devolution agenda is holding back UK regional economies, delegates at Liverpool’s International Festival for Business heard on Wednesday.

Jude Kelly, cultural director of the festival, which is expecting 27,000 people from all over the world over the next two weeks, says the “hidden potential” of women is being missed and that for devolution to work it had to be inclusive.

Liverpool-born Ms Kelly is artistic director of one of Britain’s largest cultural institutions – the Southbank Centre in London – and has established herself as one of Britain’s foremost theatre producers and directors, with more than 100 productions to her name.

‘Different idea’

At the festival on Wednesday she shared a stage with Metro Mayors from across the UK at an ‘Urbanisation and Cities’ event. They included Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester Metro Mayors Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham and their West Midlands counterpart Andy Street.

She told the audience: “We need to have a different idea of what economic growth should look like. Many women are not moving beyond a certain point in their careers and that is harming our economy.

“Girls and women are not part of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), biotech or construction sectors in huge numbers and we need to do something to supercharge female involvement in those areas.

“Women are 50% of our workforce… we have to present girls and women with a different set of role models at the top levels.”

Hard issue

Ms Kelly noted that all the Metro Mayors elected so far had been male and white and that “marred” the positive symbolism of having elected Mayors in the regions.

She added: “Devolution has to be inclusive and this is a hard issue. Economic development is not separate from social development.”

Andy Burnham
Greater Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham at Liverpool’s International Festival for Business. Picture by Tony McDonough

 

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham agreed with her points and said the devolution model was an opportunity to create a “new politics” that brought power closer to people and went beyond political point scoring.

He added: “We are at the beginning of a journey. Westminster has helped create the North South divide over the past few decades and this has to be a moment of profound change. The North is finding its voice.”

Right skills

Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram said the businesses needed the right people with the right skills and, addressing Ms Kelly’s point, he said there were efforts being made in Merseyside to improve diversity in key sectors.

Steve Rotheram
Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram at Liverpool’s International Festival for Business. Picture by Tony McDonough

 

In particular, he mentioned the work of Liverpool Girl Geeks in encouraging more girls to consider careers in tech.

“The more I speak to businesses the more I hear they too often cannot get people with the right skills,” said Mr Rotheram. “And we have thousands of young people crying out for apprenticeships.”

He called on the Government to devolve more powers around skills and training and allow the regions to utilise the money raised from the Apprenticeship Levy.

“We want to decide what is the best approach for us here on the ground in partnership with the Government.”

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