Economy of Leeds

Central Business District

The economy of Leeds is diverse, with the service sector now dominating over the traditional manufacturing industries. It is the location of one of the largest financial centres in the United Kingdom outside London. Leeds was voted 'Britain's Best City for Business' by Omis Research in 2003 but dropped to 3rd place behind Manchester and Glasgow in 2005 ("Relative under-performance over the past two years in transport improvements and cost competitiveness were the major contributing factors"). Between 2002 and 2012, the economy of Leeds grew 39%, which is below national growth of 44%.[1] Leeds' economy suffered particularly badly following the 2008-10 Great Recession, with one of the sharpest economic contractions of any city in the UK, and by the end of 2012 remained 2.6% behind its peak output in 2008.[2]

Leeds' growth has helped to change the economic geography of the United Kingdom, as Leeds is now one of the largest financial centres in Britain outside the capital.[3] New tertiary industries such as retail, call centres, offices and media have contributed to a high rate of economic growth since the early 1990s. Leeds was successful in becoming the first British city to have full broadband and digital coverage during the dot-com bubble, enabling it to become one of the key hubs in the emerging new media sector. Companies such as Freeserve, Energis, Sportal, TEAMtalk, and Ananova emerged from Leeds to dominate the UK internet industry. Now, over 33% of the UK's internet traffic passes through Leeds, making it one of the most important regional internet centres in the UK.

Economic Indices

Below is a collection of economic indices featuring Leeds. It is important to remember that while useful, surveys and indicators have limitations, and are at times subjective and incomplete. For example, no complete list of factors affecting quality of life can be created, and the way people weight these factors differs.

Quality of Life


Cushman & Wakefield European Cities Monitor (2010) - A survey based on the views of 500 European businesses of Europe's leading business cities.[7]

In the same survey, when asked how well companies know each of the cities as a business location, 19% said they were familiar with Leeds as a business location. This was the 6th highest in the UK after London (82%), Manchester (33%), Birmingham (28%), Edinburgh (25%) and Glasgow (21%).


GVA for Leeds 2002-2012[2]
Year GVA (£million) Growth (%)
2002 13,480 Increase7.4%
2003 14,495 Increase7.5%
2004 15,629 Increase7.8%
2005 16,729 Increase7.0%
2006 17,651 Increase5.5%
2007 18,807 Increase6.5%
2008 19,263 Increase2.4%
2009 18,110 Decrease6.0%
2010 18,126 Increase0.1%
2011 18,838 Increase3.9%
2012 18,767 Decrease0.4%

In 2012, Leeds' GVA was £18.8bn ($33.2bn) accounting for 1.4% of UK GVA. It also accounts for 44% of the GVA of West Yorkshire, and 20% of the GVA of Yorkshire and Humber. Leeds is by far the largest centre of economic activity in the Yorkshire and Humber region: it is 80% higher than Sheffield's and 117% higher than Bradford's, for example. Compared with other major UK cities and conurbations, its GVA is exceeded only by London (comprising five NUTS 3 areas - £309.3bn), Greater Manchester South (£34.8bn) and Birmingham (£21.2bn).[2]

In 2012, the economy of Leeds remained 2.6% behind its peak output in 2008.

Over the last 10 years, GVA growth in Leeds was marginally lower than West Yorkshire, but equal to the region as a whole. Growth was also lower than the UK as a whole. Over the last 5 years, again it was lower in these three areas.[8]

Total GVA and GVA per head, 2012[2]
Area GVA (£million) Annual GVA growth (%) GVA (£ per head) GVA per head growth (%)
Leeds 18,767 Decrease0.4% 24,770 Decrease1.3%
West Yorkshire 42,907 Increase1.3% 19,149 Increase0.7%
Core Cities average1 16,036 Increase2.6% 22,267 Increase1.6%

1excluding Leeds, included Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield


GVA per employee in Leeds is estimated to be £46,900 per employee in 2012. It is higher than other areas in the region, but lower than London. It was higher than all other NUTS 3 areas except Edinburgh (£54,100).[8] Growth between 2007 and 2012 was 7% - equal 9th of all comparable 18 NUTS 3 areas.

GVA per employee, 2011[8]
Area GVA per worker (£) GVA per worker % change 2006-11
Leeds 43,000 Increase8%
Core Cities average2 32,700 Increase11.7%

2excluding Leeds, included Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield

GVA by sector

Industry breakdown, 2011[2]
Sector Value
(£ millions)
2010-11 (%)
% of total
Agriculture, forestry and fishing 41 Increase7.9 0.2
Production 2,217 Decrease2.2 11.8
- of which manufacturing 1,532 Decrease0.1 8.1
Construction 1,065 Increase5.0 5.7
Distribution; transport; accommodation and food 3,028 Increase6.5 16.1
Information and communication 1,221 Increase7.3 6.5
Financial and insurance services 2,094 Decrease13.4 11.1
Real estate activities 2,421 Increase23.5 12.9
Business service activities 2,570 Increase7.9 13.6
Public administration, education and health 3,555 Increase1.7 18.9
Other services and household activities 627 Increase9.6 3.3
Total 18,838 Increase3.9


According to the 2012 Eurostat figures, GDP per capita (in euros) of Greater Manchester is = €27,500 just ahead the West-Midlands with €26,600 but only half the GDP per capita of Dublin €57,200 or London with €54,200.

Greater Manchester has a total GDP of €74.398 bn, West Midlands has a total GDP of €73.538 bn but less than the €85.700 bn in Greater Dublin and €450.379 bn in Greater London.


Employment, Welfare and Education

The 2012 mid-year estimate for the population of Leeds was 757,700, and growth between 2011 and 2012 was estimated to be 0.93%, the second lowest of the Core Cities ahead of Liverpool (0.83%).


Employment Statistics (Jul 12-Jun 13)[10]
Age 16-64 Leeds
Yorkshire and
The Humber
Great Britain
Economically active 76.4 76.9 77.3
In employment 68.8 69.7 71.1
Unemployed 9.6 9.2 7.8
% of economically active who are self-employed 7.5 8.2 9.5


Earnings by residence1 2013 [11]
Full-time workers Leeds
Yorkshire and
the Humber
Great Britain
Weekly pay (all workers) 498.4 479.1 518.1
Male 533.6 519.4 558.8
Female 459.5 414.5 459.8
Gender pay gap 13.9% 20.2% 17.7%
Hourly pay (all workers) 12.83 12.00 13.18
Male 13.18 12.52 13.80
Female 12.39 11.06 12.27
Gender pay gap 6.0% 11.7% 11.1%

1Median earnings in pounds for employees living in Leeds.

Earnings by workplace2 2013 [12]
Full-time workers Leeds
Yorkshire and
The Humber
Great Britain
Weekly pay (all workers) 502.1 479.1 517.8
Male 534.7 517.5 558.3
Female 463.6 416.3 459.6
Gender pay gap 13.3% 19.6% 17.7%
Hourly pay (All workers) 12.86 12.00 13.17
Male 13.13 12.50 13.80
Female 12.46 11.15 12.27
Gender pay gap 5.1% 10.8% 11.1%

2Median earnings in pounds for employees working in Leeds.


General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) 2012 [13]
Pupils achieving 5+ GCSEs, A*-C 84.1 81.8
Pupils achieving 5+ GCSEs, A*-C with English and Maths 55.0 59.4
Pupils achieving no GCSEs 0.7 0.5
Qualifications 2012 [14]
Level Leeds
Yorkshire and
The Humber
Great Britain
NVQ4 and above 35.1 29.7 34.4
NVQ3 and above 57.8 51.5 55.1
NVQ2 and above 70.5 68.7 71.8
NVQ1 and above 83.3 81.6 84.0
Other qualifications 6.6 6.9 6.3
No qualifications 10.2 11.5 9.7

Head offices

The Asda House, the head office of Asda

Asda has its head office in the Asda House in Leeds.[15], an airline, has its head office on the grounds of Leeds/Bradford Airport in Yeadon, City of Leeds.[16] GHD have their headquarters at Bridgewater Place. Other companies to be headquartered in Leeds include First Direct, Republic, Premier Farnell, Ginetta Cars, Leeds Building Society and Yorkshire Bank.

GDF Suez Energy UK, a subsidiary of GDF Suez, has its offices in Leeds.[17]


Leeds has nearly 1,800 companies engaged in a diverse range of manufacturing activities, including specialised engineering, print, food and drink manufacture, chemicals and medical technology. Employing well over 30,000 people, the sector generates 10.8% of Leeds’ total output of over £15 billion a year. Most Leeds manufacturing companies are small to medium-sized. See for lists of companies. Major companies include Siemens and Mitsubishi, ARLA foods and DairyCrest.

Vehicle production

Optare buses were made in Cross Gates until 2010 when production was moved to new facilities at Sherburn-in-Elmet. Ginetta sports cars are made in Garforth. Treves UK have a factory in Leeds as well as one at nearby Knaresborough manufacturing components for car interiors.

Food production

Food production makes up part of the Leeds manufacturing base. Arla Foods UK are based at Stourton, Northern Foods based at Cross Green and Goldenfry at Wetherby. Supercook were based in Leeds but have since also relocated to Sherburn-in-Elmet. Brewing has for sometime been prominent in Leeds. The Tetley's Brewery was until its closure in 2011 the main site for this, Carlsberg-Tetley's still have a distribution centre at Tingley. The Leeds Brewery still brew beer in Leeds as does the reopened Kirkstall Brewery (although not at the original site).

Unilever manufacture a variety of goods at their factory in the city's Whinmoor district.


The city's main chemical producer, Yorkshire Chemicals closed both its Hunslet and Kirkstall plants in the 2000s. Rhodia UK also closed their smaller chemical works in Wortley, demolition was approved in 2011.[18] There remains however several chemical works within the city, including E Chem in Kirkstall, Clariant in Rawdon and Chemsol in Hunslet.

Financial and professional services

Infirmary Street, in the heart of the business district.
The Bank of England on King Street.

Leeds is one of the largest business centres in the United Kingdom, around a quarter of a million people are employed in the financial and professional sector in the Leeds City Region with an output valued at £13 billion per year.[19] Financial and professional services are largely based around the traditional business quarter in the city centre, as well as the newer area along the South bank of the River Aire.[20] Many smaller legal and professional firms occupy the smaller Georgian office buildings around Park Square, while many banks and insurance underwriters are set around Park Row and East Parade. First Direct have their headquarters some distance from the main business districts in the industrial Stourton area.[21]

Unlike many comparable Northern cities, Leeds had a mixed economy throughout the latter half of the 20th century and so did not suffer the same industrial decline as other cities.[22] However, by the 21st century Leeds' economy went into economic decline following the Great Recession, and unlike comparable Northern cities, it is yet to recover economically.[2] The service sector of the economy flourished in the 2000s, with legal, accounting, consultancy, banking, insurance and recruitment firms moving to the city. In 2002 it was estimated that 38,000 new jobs would be created in Leeds over the next ten years, and most would be in the financial services sector.[23]

Companies with regional or national offices in Leeds, include KPMG, Norwich Union, First Direct, Lloyds Banking Group (Lloyds TSB), Lloyds Banking Group (HBOS), Allied Irish Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Leeds Building Society, Alliance and Leicester, Yorkshire Bank, Zurich Financial Services and Direct Line.[24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36] There are further financial institutions within the Leeds City Region with Yorkshire Building Society and Bradford and Bingley offices in Bradford and further HBOS offices in Halifax.

The Bank of England, who have their headquarters on Threadneedle Street in London, have their second offices on King Street in the heart of Leeds' business quarter.[37]

The Financial crisis of 2007–2010 lead to the loss of jobs within the sector. A report produced in December 2008 predicted 28,000 jobs would be lost in Leeds, throughout the course of the recession, with many in the financial sector. The report however also predicted that other boroughs within the Leeds City Region would bear the brunt of job losses more than the city. A report produced in January 2009, stated that there was a possibility that employment in the financial sector in Leeds would not return to its previous levels with fears that 'Companies could be attracted by lower rent in other cities like Sheffield or Liverpool when recovery begins'.[38]

Both the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University have established business schools, their presence being supported by businesses in the city.[39][40]


Christmas shopping on King Edward Street. Leeds Markets can be seen in the distance.

Leeds was described in 2005 by the Lonely Planet guides as the 'Knightsbridge of the North'.[41] The range of shopping facilities, from individual one-off boutiques to large department stores such as Harvey Nichols and Louis Vuitton outlets, has greatly expanded the Leeds retail base. The Victoria Quarter, several existing arcades connected together by roofing the entirety of Queen Victoria Street with stained glass, is located off Briggate, Leeds' main shopping street. Other popular shopping attractions include Leeds Kirkgate Market, Granary Wharf, Leeds Shopping Plaza, Headrow Shopping Centre, Crown Point Retail Park, The Light, The St John's Centre, The Merrion Centre Leeds, Birstall Retail Park and the White Rose Centre.

Leeds was ranked 9th in the league tables of top 50 UK retail centres in the Retailvision 2011 survey. This placed it ahead of Bristol and Leicester but behind Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham.[42] The city has fallen from its position in 2003 when it was ranked 3rd on Experian's list of UK shopping destinations. The next year it was overtaken by Birmingham to be ranked in 4th place.[43] Leeds has an almost equal mix of premium retail and value stores, with premium accounting for 9.8% of all stores in the centre and value stores 9.3%. This balance is unusual for a top 10 ranked retail destination.[44] The proposed Eastgate Quarters will enlarge the shopping area significantly, and is due to be anchored by John Lewis and a second Marks and Spencer store for the city. The Trinity Quarter is a large shopping development under construction that is due to open in March 2013. It is a part redevelopment of a run-down part of the city centre, and part re-modelling of the existing Leeds Shopping Plaza.


Main article: Tourism in Leeds

Leeds has received several accolades in the field of tourism; including being voted by Condé Nast Traveler magazine Readers' Awards as the "UK's favourite city" in 2004, "Best English city to visit outside London" in 2005, and also "Visitor city of the year" by The Good Britain Guide in 2005. Situated close to the UK's geographical centre, the city benefits from good transport connections with the M1 running from Leeds to London, the M62 connecting Leeds with Manchester and the seaport cities of Hull and Liverpool, and the A1(M) for linking to the north. Leeds Bradford International Airport is a rapidly growing regional UK airport, with an 87 per cent growth in terminal passenger numbers in the last five years.[45][46] Over 450 weekly flights connect the city to over 70 major European business and holiday destinations.[47]

Tourism in Leeds is estimated to support over 20,000 full-time equivalent jobs, and on average Leeds attracts around 1.5 million people annually who stay overnight, plus a further 10 million who visit on day trips. In 2009 Leeds was the 8th most visited city in England by UK visitors[48] and the 13th most visited city by overseas visitors.[49] [50] Visitors to the city bring nearly £735 million into the local economy each year. Major national and regional attractions include the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds Art Gallery, the Henry Moore Institute and the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Leeds is also the only city outside London to have both its own opera and ballet companies – Opera North and Northern Ballet Theatre, both internationally renowned.

Throughout the summer high season, Leeds CitySightseeing buses run sightseeing tours, while Leeds City Cruisers operate regular river cruises.


Leeds is situated on the M1, the M62 and the A1(M) connecting it with cities to the north, south, east and west. Leeds City station is one of Network Rails fourteen principal stations and has rail links to London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh and other major cities. Leeds has no mass transit system, the previously proposed Leeds Supertram was axed during the early stages of construction following the escalation of costs, the Leeds Trolleybus has since been proposed as an alternative, running the same route. Leeds is served by Leeds Bradford International Airport, with connections to most major European cities. Air connections to Heathrow (British Airways) and Amsterdam (KLM & are available. Although a railway line lies close to the airport, only buses connect it with the city centre.


In 2016 Leeds approved a £21m plan to district heat 2,000 homes using surplus heat from the Cross Green energy recycling and materials recovery facility,[51][52] which opened in 2016.[53]


Bridgewater Place also known as 'The Dalek' taken in March 2012

In recent times Leeds has seen many new developments, with high rise schemes making a much larger mark on Leeds' skyline. Sixteen skyscrapers are currently under construction or proposed, all of them taller than West Riding House (262 ft or 80 m) – Leeds' tallest building from 1972–2005.[54] Bridgewater Place, known locally as 'The Dalek',[55] recently became the tallest building in Leeds. A taller building, the 561-foot (171 m) Lumiere building was planned to be finished by 2012 but building work has been put on hold as of 9 July 2008 owing to the state of the world economy.[56] The plan for even taller 'Kissing Towers' of Criterion Place has been scrapped for similar reasons.[57] Since postponing any further work on Lumiere, the developers have applied to Leeds City Council for the development to be revised, making it taller than the current proposals.

Leeds City Region Enterprise Zone was launched in April 2012 to promote development in four sites along the A63 East Leeds Link Road.[58]


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