This Autumn, the government announced £20million investment to create new University Enterprise Zones. These will boost knowledge exchange by helping universities to provide specialist business support, incubators and accelerators in a bid to enhance R&D and drive greater collaboration among businesses who are developing new technology in key growth sectors.
This latest investment indicates continued government recognition of the role that science and innovation parks have in creating the environment for firms to generate new ideas, innovate, create new ventures and ultimately, drive economic growth.
Through Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the government has already provided over £9bn in capital funds to leverage further investment to deliver local economic growth priorities. Using the Local Growth Fund, LEPs channel public money into projects that boost high-value employment opportunities and develop skills, and enhance business capability, creativity and innovation strengths.
Following the Autumn 2018 competition for capital investment SEMLEP, the Local Enterprise Partnership for the South East Midlands area has now awarded £35million to 15 local projects, as part of a programme worth £265m for the local economy (2015-2021).
Investing locally in the innovation ecosystem
£3.1million was awarded to leading engineering solutions business, KW Special Projects. This investment has secured the development of a new Digital Manufacturing Centre to be built at Silverstone Park. The centre will act as a technology innovation hub, providing SMEs with on-site access to digital and additive manufacturing facilities, both incubation and manufacturing space and the ability to tap into industry knowledge and advice. Another investment is £2million towards a new aerodynamic research and innovation centre near Daventry. This project, led by TotalSim Ltd., will provide flexible space to technology start-ups and early growth businesses. By creating a new science park for the area, businesses will be able to access new aerodynamic testing facilities on-site and connect to wider benefits including new university training courses, expertise and other academic services.
These are just two very recent examples of positive public-private collaboration and investment that, by working to a shared vision, will further boost the innovation ecosystem and benefit the local economy.
The framework through which public funding is prioritised by the LEPs is detailed in each area’s economic plans. In July 2019, the four areas that form the Oxford-Cambridge Arc published Local Industrial Strategies (LISs). These plans identify the economic strengths, capabilities and assets and growth opportunities for each area and for the whole Arc, setting out interventions and investment priorities to proactively boost growth.
Priorities for growth
To deliver on the commitments set out in each strategy, a crucial role for LEPs is to convene partners to help unblock business constraints. Picking up on some of the key challenges identified, the LEPs are bringing private and public sector partners together to tackle:
- both a shortage of investment-ready employment land and market intelligence needed to develop a balanced pipeline of commercial premises to enable growing businesses to scale-up locally.
- transport connectivity, specifically focusing on first and last mile solutions and promoting best practice around integrated, smart systems that better connect people to places and services.
- ensuring that digital infrastructure is fit for future business needs.
- energy supply and distribution -and other utility- constraints on commercial and residential growth and doing so in a way that furthers progress towards achieving a zero-carbon economy by 2050.
- constraints around attracting and retaining people with right skills sets by bringing employers together with education providers and learners to both shape the local skills provision to better match local business needs and to inspire and inform people, particularly young people, about the career opportunities open to them; and by investing directly in learning facilities.
- business access to finance, funding and research and development opportunities by connecting innovative, growing businesses to specialist advice and expertise available through universities, government and other providers.
By focusing on the priorities outlined in Local Industrial Strategies, LEPs are working to a long-term plan for the success of local economies.
Making the connection
The leadership teams across the network of science and innovation parks have an important role to play in delivering against these priorities. There is great work happening in the science park network that has essentially created the blueprint for what successful business clusters should be for the UK. The innovation ecosystem created in science parks are an engine for the type of growth LEPs want to see and support. The recent investments made by SEMLEP through the Local Growth Fund shows the fantastic outcomes that can be achieved with continued engagement on shared agendas.
You can expect LEPs to bring the right people together and deploy the levers we have available to us, to invest in strategic innovation projects that lead to high quality employment and growth. In return, we want to maintain and grow our connections in the science park community to work together to meet your needs and prepare appropriately for the challenges and opportunities of the future.