If the government is to achieve its levelling up agenda, it’s essential a geographically targeted approach is taken with the increase in R&D investment as outlined in last year’s budget and reiterated in this long awaited levelling up white paper.
“We therefore welcome the announcement that greater powers in spending and investment will be handed to local mayors, and we applaud the plan to use research and innovation to drive clusters of emerging opportunities. Similarly, the decentralising of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will empower local leaders to use regional strengths in order to harness local hubs of innovation.
Indeed, the Innovation Accelerator model the white paper has outlined could be pivotal in helping turbocharge the science and technology ecosystem within the three regions it will be rolled out to. Yet it needs to go further, and we hope to work with government to explore how our businesses, academic and public sector organisations can help to unlock the potential in our region, allowing us to address the inequalities that the pandemic has magnified. While the whole country has taken an unprecedented hit, areas such as our own Liverpool City Region have suffered disproportionately.
Our own campus has long been a champion of the potential of research and innovation clusters. Last year we launched the new Digital Tech Cluster – set to create 1,000 jobs – and our HealthTech cluster has allowed our companies to work closely together in order to develop products and services that will support health and wellbeing for decades to come. The government has previously recognised the importance of investing in science and technology in the regions with its support for The Hartree National Centre for Digital Innovation (HNCDI) at our campus – announced last and supported by £172m funding from the government and an in-kind contribution of £38m from IBM Research.
This centre will be vital in supporting the UK’s efforts in the technologies of the future such as quantum computing – but if these sectors are to reach their potential, we need the necessary skilled workforce. That the government will also be providing an additional £550 million boost to Skills Bootcamps to offer greater support to SMEs is therefore very welcome, and we hope these will be focussed on training future generations to undertake jobs in the sectors of the future or where there are noticeable skills shortages such as AI, data analytics, coding, and engineering.
These are hugely encouraging steps in the right direction, yet further work is needed to form the cohesive plan of action that will achieve the levelling up outcomes we all desire. The freedom given to local leaders to have sufficient flexibility over how they use research and innovation funding alongside other aspects of their development strategies could be pivotal.
We see this levelling up white paper and the cluster approach it outlines as a vote of confidence in the power of cutting edge businesses at the frontline of innovation to help the UK achieve its destiny of becoming a global scientific superpower that supports a flourishing economy and a fair society at home. We look forward to working with our colleagues in government and across the business and innovation community to help make that a reality.