Championing research and innovation in the Great West

Research in the UK looks set to be galvanised by new funding and commitment to place-based innovation. Greg Clark MP has called for “local industrial strategies” and we believe that the Great West is in a prime position to deliver on this vision.

The world-leading research and industry strengths of South West England and South East Wales – Advanced Engineering and Digital Innovation – reflect our heritage as the birthplace of technological achievement. We are the proud inheritors of Brunel’s innovative spirit, with a highly connected region leading the way in future-facing industries.

The Great West has the largest aerospace sector in the UK and the second largest digital economy in the UK outside London. Global corporations such as Airbus and Oracle call our region home alongside thriving start-ups and tech communities.

With such strong foundations, it was no surprise that Bristol was one of the only cities in the UK to over-perform the national average for productivity per capita.

In our region, industry expertise is accelerated by world-leading academic research. The GW4 Alliance, which brings together four research-intensive universities, Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, has the highest research power of any university alliance in the UK. Working collaboratively, we are identifying and delivering great research at scale, building a pipeline of talent and bringing pioneering equipment and facilities to our doorstep.

We also lead the Great West Taskforce, bringing together LEPs, major organisations and academic partners to champion research and innovation for the region. Together we delivered the landmark report on the region’s strengths and assets, the South West England and South East Wales Science and Innovation Audit.

The Audit signalled the step-change investment opportunities in the region such as Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult, and funding for the proposed Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS), the Institute for Environmental Risk and Innovation and Composites Excellence – with National Composites Materials Centre.

These projects are already proving vital to the post-Brexit economy. The Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult, drawing upon university and industry expertise, will bring the centre of gravity for developing this technology from South California to South Wales. The Government believes that the market for compound semiconductors is set to be in the range of £75 billion to £125 billion by 2025.

Our response to the Industrial Strategy Green Paper will showcase our region’s research and industrial strengths, and will also highlight areas which we believe should be given more prominence, such as climate change. The Great West is home to more climate expertise than any other area worldwide and we believe that investing in this challenge could secure the prosperity of future generations.

The next few months will be critical as the UK Government further develops the detail of the Industrial Strategy, and we will report back on the work of the Great West Taskforce, led by the GW4 Alliance, to engage with this process.

We are proud to realise the scale of this region’s ambition and will work hard to ensure that the voice of the Great West is heard loud and clear at Westminster.

An edited version of this post appeared in the March edition of The House magazine.

Working together to lay the tracks for ‘Great West’ success

Senior representatives of universities, major organisations and LEPs recently travelled to Westminster to share their ambitions for a productive and prosperous South West England and South East Wales region. Many of us travelled on the very rail network that laid the foundations for our region’s success. Isambard Kingdom Brunel envisioned a highly connected region powered by innovative industrial solutions, and made it happen. Now we hope to follow in the footsteps of such giants to drive forward our ambitious vision for the region.

Collaboration is at the heart of this vision, and the South West England and South East Wales Science and Innovation Audit is a testament to the value of truly collaborative working. The Audit is, as Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell said earlier today, the “most important evaluation ever undertaken of our region’s research and industrial capacity”. It demonstrated how our region can make the UK a global leader in Advanced Engineering and Digital Innovation, outlining assets including the UK’s largest aerospace sector and second largest digital economy cluster (outside London). I would encourage you to explore this fantastic report in full at our SWW-SIA pages. But the Audit’s findings are not the end of the story.

The Audit brought together a unique combination of influential actors across academia, industry and local government. It has undoubtedly strengthened relationships that existed already and forged links where there were none. Already we are beginning to harvest the fruit of these relationships: cross-sector R&D projects, commercialisation work, skills training and more.

If we work together, the opportunities for South West England and South East Wales are clear – the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper published earlier this week emphasised the importance of driving up productivity across the whole of the UK, capitalising on the distinct strengths of its regions. The ‘ten pillars’ of the Industrial Strategy focus on collaboration, research and innovation excellence, skills, infrastructure and place-based growth. The groundwork is already underway, catalysed by the Audit, to support the Government to deliver their Modern Industrial Strategy.

For the GW4 Alliance, the Industrial Strategy signals the importance of working with partners across the region to deliver world-leading research and innovation at scale. Last week we announced that we had received a £3m award from EPSRC to work with Cray and the Met Office to develop a ‘first of its kind’ supercomputer that will benefit scientists across the UK. We are also building on the rich legacy of the REACT project, a knowledge exchange hub for the creative economy, to develop new mechanisms of working between academia and industry across the South West and Wales, funded by the AHRC. Researchers will work with organisations including the BBC, British Museum, National Trust, English Heritage and CADW, as well as SMEs and local authorities to refine innovative methods of co-production and test new technologies to benefit creative industries across the UK.

We believe that these two projects embody the aims of the Industrial Strategy – not only delivering globally significant scientific breakthroughs, but also delivering ”effective adoption of technology throughout businesses and improvements in management and workforce skills”.

Our founding ethos at the GW4 Alliance is “open, collaborative, resourceful”. Led by this outlook, we look forward to continuing to work with the Science and Innovation Audit consortium and emerging partners to deliver on our ambitious vision for the region. Working together, we are confident that the ‘Great West’ region can make the UK a global leader.