By Raheema Khan


One of Bradford’s most senior Asian academics has made a significant contribution in steering the economic recovery of Bradford District.

On Monday 4 January Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Bradford, Professor Zahir Irani, presented an economic recovery plan to the districts’ Councillors, which he believes will leave the district in better shape than it was before the Covid pandemic.

Irani who is also the Chair of the District’s Economic Recovery Board told Councillors during Bradford Council’s Executive meeting: “We don’t want to go back to normal, because normal wasn’t good enough.” 

It contains numerous suggestions on how Bradford can bounce back from the national crisis, from helping re-train workers for industries likely to grow in the coming years, such as green technology, to boosting the local health sector and providing support for entrepreneurs and start-up businesses.

Other proposals include making the District more prosperous by creating a more sustainable food supply system, creating a city centre park – possibly at the former Royal Mail site at Forster Square, and turning Little Germany into a “heritage action zone” – helping make better use of the historic area of the city.

The pandemic has already led to a big rise in unemployment in the District, with the future job prospects of Bradford’s young people looking particularly bleak.

The plan also embraces opportunities arising from Brexit, the growth of the digital economy and the emergence of the green economy.

“In Bradford we have a very low skills base, we have to look at how we enable people to enter the labour market.”
Professor Zahir Irani (Credit: University of Bradford)

Prof Irani has enjoyed a long and successful career in academia, combining wide-ranging research interests, consulting work for industry and overseas governments and senior management roles including head of an award-winning business school.

He was seconded to the Cabinet Office and served as a senior policy advisor in the heart of the coalition UK Government.

Prof Irani joined the University of Bradford in 2016 and was founding dean at the faculty of management, law and social sciences before being appointed Pro-Vice Chancellor with responsibility for academic, innovation and quality, last year.

Prof Irani has been recognised by the West Yorkshire Lord Lieutenancy and Age UK (Bradford and District) for his recent regional work during the Covid-19 crisis.

It’s  therefore welcomed to see Prof Irani spearheading the district’s efforts to bounce forward from the downturn and help businesses respond to the ongoing challenges and opportunities presented by the Covid-19 crisis.

Prof Irani and the Bradford Economic Recovery Board have been working on the plan for several months and involved numerous businesses and local organisations.

He said: “In Bradford we have a very low skills base, we have to look at how we enable people to enter the labour market.”

Professor Irani stressed that the district also needs to improve its image. “We have to project the image that Bradford is a great place to live, work and visit, and a great place to set up a business” he said.

Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe said: “We all know that lockdown will be hugely damaging to the life chances of people in our district unless we get on top of this.”

“As a country we need to think ahead about what comes next. If an economic recovery does not come, then that will also damage lives.

“We cannot go back we have to go forward. The future is green, and in Bradford we need to make sure we are on top of that.”

Members heard that much of the recovery plan was reliant on Government support. West Yorkshire Combined Authority, made up of five West Yorkshire Councils, has lobbied government for £1.4 billion to help the region’s recovery.

Cllr Hinchcliffe said: “We need this coming through. We can’t deliver on this recovery plan unless the Government properly funds areas of the North like ours.”

Councillor Rebecca Poulsen, leader of the Conservative Party on Bradford Council, said: 

“This is an excellent piece of work. As has been mentioned, we have to move forward, we don’t want to go back to how it was before.

“I’ve had lots of businesses who have come to me and say they want to get involved in this.” 

Cllr Alex Ross-Shaw, portfolio holder for Regeneration, Planning and Transport, said: “As an example of the deliverable objectives of the Economic Recovery Plan the Towns Fund represents a fantastic opportunity for Keighley and Shipley.

“It constitutes a transformational programme of activity and investment in town and high street regeneration; promoting the distinctive offer of each place, improving the resilience and sustainability of our places and communities and contributing to economic growth.

“It also provides an opportunity to complement and build upon the success of recent schemes in the towns, including the £10.3m Hard Ings Road improvement programme in Keighley, the £1m Streets for People investment in Shipley town centre, and the creation of Business Development Zones in Bradford, Keighley and Shipley, creating around 3,000 new jobs.”