The challenge of encouraging regional economic growth is likely to be even more important as the UK emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic and looks to rebuild and reimagine the economy. Two reports from CaSE and NESTA published in the last few weeks focus on ‘levelling up’ and the R&D investment agenda.
CaSE’s report The Power of Place examines how to maximise the local economic impact of greater R&D intensity across the regions and nations of the UK. Key ingredients to success include excellence and branding, local leadership, and supporting small business.
Nesta’s report The Missing £4 Billion – Making R&D work for the whole UK sets out why regional imbalances in R&D spending has happened and how to harness R&D to redress longstanding regional economic inequality. The authors have calculated that large parts of the UK, including North England, the English Midlands, and South West of England, together with Wales and Northern Ireland, have been missing out, to the tune of £4 billion a year. The team at NESTA boldly set out their recommendations – The UK needs a change in direction for UK innovation policy. The UK’s nations, cities and regions, need resources and capacity to build and develop their own innovation priorities. Institutions like UK Research and Innovation must take on new responsibilities for geographical rebalancing.
Both reports emphasise the opportunities and challenges faced carrying out R&D in different regions from urban to rural, which can be varied. However, the barriers identified are unlikely to have changed by the pandemic, if anything public and private investment is likely to be even more critical.
What will it take to build a more resilient economy with innovation at its centre? Can the reset and reimagine planning currently underway to support recovery address imbalances and offer inclusive approaches. Or in the race to get going again, will well-meaning intentions be swept aside and the current imbalance challenges be even more exacerbated?
As the UK recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a rare moment when change is possible. A more resilient UK economy with innovation at its centre and readdressing imbalances can benefit a greater number of people and places in the UK.
What is needed – imagination, creativity, courage, optimism and energy. And as I write this the line from the great musical Les Misérables “Do you hear the people sing” comes into my head… “Who will be strong and stand with me?”
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