Cornwall: a key election battleground in the South West

With less than a week to go, the  General Election result in Cornwall is far from certain says Dr Joanie Willett, a lecturer in the politics department of the University of Exeter who is based at the Tremough campus in Penryn.

On paper, Cornwall looks like a fascinating region to watch this General Election. The last time it was totally blue was back in the early 1900s, and in 2005 all five of its MPs were Liberal Democrat.

Before that, between 1997 and 2005 the sole MP who was not Liberal Democrat was Labour. This means that the Conservative hold on all of its Parliamentary seats is far from secure.

For the Liberal Democrats, the nature of Cornwall as a traditional stronghold for their party must place this as a key strategic battleground. Tim Farron needs big wins if he is to be able to have any chance of vocalising his pro-Remain position on a Parliamentary basis.

But this is where politics and elections get complicated. It’s so easy to look at the stats and draw conclusions about what might or might not happen, and what are the key places to watch.

As an example, let’s look at Falmouth and Truro. This is a newly created seat, but Truro is a key Liberal Democrat area and had returned a Liberal/Liberal Democrat MP since the 1970s.

In 2010, Sarah Newton won only very narrowly, with 41.7% of the vote to LD Terrye Teverson‘s 40.8%. Despite this, the strain on Liberal Democrat finances and activist resources meant that it didn’t count as a priority seat in 2015, which perhaps went some way to account for Stephen Rix’s dreadful showing of 16.8%.

What this illustrates is that just looking at the bare statistics only tells us a small part of the story – and it’s the internal politics of the individual seats during election campaigns that goes a long way to explaining what happens during the vote.

So why did the Liberal Democrats do so badly in the 2015 elections in Truro and Falmouth?

There are two key reasons. Firstly, they had a candidate who was not as good at working the electorate as Terrye Teverson was.

Secondly, the Liberal Democrats were broke following popular fury at their involvement in the Coalition – to such an extent that they didn’t even have the money to fight marginals.

Everything was spent on trying (and ultimately failing) to hold on to the seats that they already had – one being Nick Clegg’s Sheffield seat, which he very nearly lost.

So what has changed now? The big difference is the huge spike in membership that the Liberal Democrats experienced both in 2015, and again, as the party voice of Remain after the Brexit vote in 2016.

In truth, however, the figures for 2016 (79,000) have only taken it back to pre-2001 levels. Currently, following the announcement of the June 8 General election, their membership base has soared once more to over 100,000. This is a figure not seen since 1994.

So how about Labour? Labour’s relationship with Cornwall over the past few years is particularly interesting.

After serving two terms, Candy Atherton, Cornwall’s sole Labour MP (in Falmouth and Camborne) for many years, was defeated in 2005 by the Liberal Democrat Julia Goldsworthy.

However, their share of the vote in 2010 was a dreadful less than 10%. But much of this seems to have been related to the fact that their candidate was unpopular and some supporters were seduced (and then disappointed) by voting tactically.

But by 2015 Labour’s vote share had bounced back to more than 15% – possibly in part because of the return of disillusioned tactical voters.

The big change since 2015, however, has been (surprise surprise), Jeremy Corbyn. The archetypal Marmite politician, loved and loathed in equal measure, there is no doubt that he has mobilised many.

Labour party membership (at more than 517,000) is now at levels not previously seen since 1980 and Cornwall is not immune to this.

Anecdotally, Labour party activity in Cornwall has rocketed over the past two years, and Jeremy Corbyn has made high-profile visits to the region at least twice over the past two years. This is unheard of for a Labour party leader.

What does this mean for Truro and Falmouth? It certainly means that Sarah Newton is likely to see her commanding majority reduced. But this is going to depend significantly on the candidates that the parties select.

We still don’t know the degree to which voters will continue to punish the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010.

Certainly, some people will be less inclined to vote tactically, even now. But we also don’t know how deeply the anti-Tory part of Cornish civil society runs.

The aftermath of the 2015 elections led to an enormous cross-party mobilisation in Cornwall, based on a perceived urgency to restrain Conservative austerity.

In fact, two coaches went from Cornwall to a London-based anti-austerity demonstration in June 2015. This kind of activity had a precedent only in the 2003 Stop The War marches.

What we don’t know yet, is how much this strength of feeling will be translated into votes across Cornwall. So will the Conservatives hold on to their seats here?

That is going to depend on the strength of the candidates and on how well the parties resource their local campaigns.

If Labour and the Liberal Democrats utilise their huge war chests gained from massive increases in party membership, they will give the Conservatives a proper run for their money.

Dr Joanie Willett is a Lecturer (Education and Research) at University of Exeter’s Penryn campus.

This article was originally published at Cornwall Live, and has been reproduced with permission of the University of Exeter. 

Engagement and Analytics: how Exeter is delivering place-based change

Exeter is the fastest growing city in the UK but also the slowest moving. Dr Liz O’Driscoll, Head of Innovation at Exeter City Futures, outlines their goal to make Exeter congestion free and energy independent by 2025

Cities, and the unprecedented growth of urban environments, present both the greatest challenge and opportunity of our lifetime. As drivers of economic growth, cities are essential to modern life, but unsustainable trends in energy use, congestion and associated negative consequences threaten the health of cities and their citizens. Rapid urbanisation presents acute challenges for all local and national governments with constrained capacity and finance for infrastructure delivery. Current restraints on the public purse are likely to compound matters unless tackled with solutions drawn from both public and private arenas. Exeter’s private and public sectors are already working in partnership to tackle these challenges head-on.

Exeter City Futures is the only privately funded whole city transformation programme in the UK, investing to stimulate innovative solutions to the challenges Greater Exeter faces. We have set the bold goal to make Exeter congestion free and energy independent by 2025.

Fastest growing but slowest moving

I joined Exeter City Futures a little over a year ago and in this short space of time I have had the opportunity to work alongside city leadership, stakeholders and residents to understand the vision for the city and to begin to explore the challenges it faces.

Image Imagining the Future of Exeter
What could Exeter’s future look like?

In January 2017 Exeter was named the fastest growing city in the UK. There is no doubt that within the City leadership this economic success has been welcome, but maintaining and expanding on the region’s successes in the future comes with its own set of challenges – challenges that align well with what’s happening at a national level as political parties focus on industrial strategy. The Greater Exeter population is expected to increase by 40,000 within the next ten years and, unless solutions are found, will bring increased pressure on housing, employment, the environment and our transport network. Indeed the City is already beginning to feel the effect of congested roads, being named the slowest moving by INRIX. Both headlines are evidence of the need to make change.

The good news is our economic region is prospering; offering fertile ground for attracting innovators, startups, and SMEs with solutions to help us thrive. Exeter is also home to the largest cluster of digital businesses south west of Bristol, with a population that is among the best trained in the UK. A world-leading university and several globally renowned organisations are testament to Exeter’s potential to make change.

Exeter City Futures

Founded in 2016, Exeter City Futures is as a Community Interest Company delivering transformational change within the City. Our vision is for a healthy and prosperous city with optimised and efficient energy and transport networks, a dynamic eco-system of commercial innovation and a high-skills economy that underpins growth and inward investment.

At its core, the Exeter City Futures approach is a process for defining problems, building partnerships to find solutions, and managing and measuring progress. Over the past year we have launched – alone or in partnership – a number projects that are beginning to address some of the challenges that face our city.

Fundamental to our approach is discovering what our City needs in this period of global change; what do we want our city to be and what opportunities do we want to make available to the citizens. We are building capacity within the city to unleash bold Ideas with big impact on our goals. Through creating an environment where the City innovates together, supported at the highest level with political and corporate partnership, we can focus our collaborative energy to deliver shared goals and inspire action that contributes towards sustainable change.

At a local level Exeter City Futures has developed a strategy that can be made to work to deal with global investment imperatives, local economic need and create places with drastically improved health and quality of life; all without long-term reliance on government subsidy.

We have an ambitious but achievable opportunity to thrive as a vibrant, sustainable City and an exemplar for place-based social and technological change. It is all too easy to focus on the big picture and we often ignore the small things which satisfy the needs of people on a very local scale. But through focussing on place and bringing together citizens, entrepreneurs, public and private sectors around a shared understanding of the real challenges, I believe that we can stimulate innovation that develops the types of solutions we need to find and ensure Exeter secures its status as a sustainable city fit for future generations.

Dr Liz O’Driscoll is Head of Innovation at Exeter City Futures

Data science and innovation: making the most of our regional expertise

With organisations such as the ONS, the Met Office, Airbus and Oracle on our doorstep, coupled with world-leading in-house expertise at universities across the region, the time is ripe for a Great West network in data science and innovation, argues Professor Stephen Fairhurst

Developing capacity for research and development in data science is now a major national priority. This much was clear when, in November 2015, the national Alan Turing Institute (ATI) officially launched– a flagship investment that catalysed a wave of data science initiatives UK-wide.

Local growth

Alongside the national focus on data science and innovation, there has been a strident call from the previous Government to develop local growth potential in key research and industry strengths. The Industrial Strategy Green Paper, which set the Government’s stall for addressing the productivity challenge, pledged to “back local innovation” and the then-Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, called for “locally-directed, collaborative working”.

Bolstering the Industrial Strategy were tranches of Science and Innovation Audits which outlined definitive research and industry expertise in UK regions. For South West England and South East Wales, digital innovation was in the spotlight – specifically recognising the region’s underpinning strength in data analytics.

Industry strengths

The potential of the region to become a data science and innovation powerhouse is clear, and its supporters are making their voices heard. A recent talk at Cardiff University from Stian Westlake, then-Policy Advisor to Jo Johnson (Minister for Universities and Science), focused on the rich data science ecosystem of South Wales, highlighting that the region is home to national government bodies such as the ONS, Companies House and the Intellectual Property Office, alongside major commercial businesses with expertise in data science such as Admiral.

Over the Severn Bridge the data science and innovation industry landscape is just as vibrant, featuring global organisations from Airbus to Oracle alongside thriving SMEs and start-ups. The Met Office, based in Exeter, is an unparalleled leader in climate and environmental data analytics.

Research expertise

Expertise in data analytics is, of course, cultivated from seed in our universities and research labs. For example, the University of Bristol has recently set up the Jean Golding Institute for Data Intensive Research; Cardiff University has the Data Innovation Research Institute, Exeter is developing the Data Science Institute and Bath is home to the well-established Institute for Mathematical Innovation.

So how do we all work together to make the most of our regional expertise in data science and innovation? The consortium responsible for the Science and Innovation Audit – a collection of 36 higher education institutions, businesses, LEPs and Welsh Government – has now matured into the Great West Taskforce, whose mission is to raise the profile of science and innovation in our region. We can build upon the relationships forged by this group, and use this as a mechanism to further catalyse data science collaboration across the region.

We are also holding a series of ‘Data Intensive Research’ workshops across our four universities, focusing on thematic areas such as the creative industries, government, medicine and the environment. These free workshops will act as an opportunity to bring together researchers and industry representatives to develop new ideas and partnerships in data science and innovation. The time is ripe for a data science and innovation network in the Great West, and we hope you will join us in building it.

Data Intensive Research Workshops will take place across the GW4 Alliance between 16 May 2017 and 15 June 2017. Find out more and book at http://gw4.ac.uk/all-events/data-intensive-research-workshops/

Professor Stephen Fairhurst is Director of the Data Innovation Research Institute at Cardiff University, and one of the GW4 lead academics in the Data Intensive Research community.

How can universities tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities of Brexit?

Brexit will present the UK with a vast number of political, economic, social, and legal challenges and opportunities in the months and years ahead. In this short piece, Professor Phil Syrpis reflects on the steps taken within the University of Bristol to begin to tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities.

From the time that it became clear, on the morning of Friday 24 June 2016, that the UK had voted to leave the EU, academics have been absorbing, reacting to, and in some cases seeking to shape, the political agenda. Events have been occurring at a dizzying pace. David Cameron was swiftly replaced by Theresa May; Parliament, after Gina Miller’s Supreme Court victory, voted to trigger Article 50 and begin the process of exiting the EU; White Papers and Negotiating Guidelines were issued; and we are now set for a General Election on 8 June, which looks set to be dominated by Brexit (that’s one of the very few predictions I feel able to make).

Meanwhile, we have President Trump in the US, and elections in France and Germany which will play a big part in shaping the future of the EU. Within less than two years (unless that period is extended by unanimous agreement) the EU and the UK will have to agree a ‘divorce bill’, conclude and ratify a withdrawal agreement, and work towards an agreement on the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK. We – and I include academics, policy makers, journalists, and citizens – all need to learn more about trade law, including under ‘WTO rules’, immigration systems, the nature of the devolution settlement in the UK, and much more besides.

One of the key tasks for universities is to engage with, and interrogate, the policy-making process. Those of us with a research interest in European affairs have been in the unaccustomed position (and yes, I know it won’t last…) of being very much in demand; organising and speaking at many events. Our research is produced to short deadlines. Law School staff have, for example, presented evidence to Select Committees, and have reacted to the arguments and judgments made in the Miller ruling, in blogs and in the media. We have crafted research proposals, made new links with policy-makers, and immersed ourselves in the new world of blogs, vlogs, podcasts, Twitter and Facebook. Support networks, at School, Faculty and University level exist, and are developing apace. We are very grateful for the support from the University of Bristol, in particular from RED, PolicyBristol, and the communications teams.

More broadly, the higher education community must show that it is able to engage, in a more systematic and meaningful way than hitherto, with the city and its population. Brexit has revealed that we live in a deeply divided kingdom, in which polarised views are passionately held, and rarely challenged. Different communities in the UK, and within Bristol, live very different lives, seeming to share ever fewer things in common.

Universities have the potential to make a profound and important contribution here; bringing communities together, enabling them to share concerns and to articulate the goals we can all work towards. I have attended innovative workshops in the last month which will feed into a free public event at @Bristol on 23 May, #BristolBrexit – a city responds to Brexit, in which national and local politicians, the Mayor’s Office, trade unionists, citizens’ advice bureaux, community groups, pressure groups, employers, recruiters, business organisations, and academics from different disciplines from the region’s universities, were discussing the full range of concerns created by Brexit.

I sense that there is both a need, and an appetite, for such conversations to continue, to ensure that the current crisis serves a purpose and yields long-term rewards. Of course, maintaining the momentum will not be easy. Government policy looks set to restrict what we are able to do. It is important to manage expectations, and to focus on achievable goals.

A university’s response to Brexit has to be multifaceted. Ensuring that there is proper coordination between the different parts of the institution represents a significant administrative challenge. We must aspire to be ambitious. Our goals should be:

  • To provide advice to students and staff who may be affected by changes in the law, and worried about the impact of such changes;
  • To make advice available to the general public who are similarly affected;
  • To engage in a more meaningful way with business and civil society groups, and citizens at large, in relation to the co-production of research and the dissemination of research outputs;
  • To ensure that researchers in different parts of the university are afforded opportunities for collaboration with academic partners and citizens within and beyond the university;
  • To develop our curriculum so that it reflects recent developments (in Law for example, there is much to be done to capture the changing international dimension of UK public law);
  • To improve our web presence (see for example this developed within the Law School) so as to showcase our activities and expertise, enabling us to raise our profile with students, alumni, applicants, potential research collaborators, policy makers, and beyond.

The stakes are very high. The politics of the next few months and years are likely to shape life in the UK for generations. Universities are as well placed as many to influence policy; although there is little sign that the Government is listening, and indeed every prospect that Theresa May will not be explaining what Brexit means to her, even in the Conservative manifesto, for fear of creating hostages to fortune in the tough negotiations which lie ahead.

Universities are also well placed to contribute towards a richer public understanding of what lies ahead. We must be ready to seize the opportunities, and to play our part in bringing communities together.

#BristolBrexit – a city responds to Brexit will showcase the progress of a series of workshops on migration, trade, and local communities, and offer new opportunities for collaboration across other themes related to Brexit in Bristol.  The event will feature stalls, workshops, interactive networking opportunities and an art exhibition. Sign up on Eventbrite to attend or be involved on the day. Contact bristol-brexit-project@bristol.ac.uk for more information.

Phil Syrpis is a Professor of EU Law at University of Bristol Law School.

Re-inventing regional policy for post-Brexit Britain

With Brussels and London having radically different attitudes to regional policy, Professor Kevin Morgan looks at what lies ahead for UK regional policy post Brexit. The original version of this article can be found at Cardiff University’s Welsh Brexit blog

Regional policy was invented in Britain

The first country to industrialise, Britain was also the first to de-industrialise when its heavy industries – coal, steel, shipbuilding and the like – collapsed in the inter-war depression.

Although it was too little too late, the Special Areas Act of 1934 saw the birth of the world’s first regional policy, which was designed to mitigate the socio-economic crisis of the depressed areas – the areas where the heavy industries were all clustered.

Of the four depressed areas designated for relief in the 1930s – South Wales, North East England, West Cumberland and Clydeside – only South Wales retains the poorest status today, signalling a deep developmental failure and a devastating indictment of more than 80 years of British regional policy. In the current round of EU regional policy (2014-2020) West Wales and the Valleys is a “less developed region” in the regional classification system.

The rise and fall of British regional policy

Since its birth in the 1930s, regional policy has gone through two major phases – the rise and fall of British regional policy, followed by the advent of EU regional policy.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from both phases when we think about how to re-invent regional policy for Post-Brexit Britain.

The “golden age” of British regional policy (late 30s to mid 70s) was predicated on a donor-recipient model of regional development. The “donor regions” were the over-heating regions of South East England and the West Midlands, where industrial development certificates controlled growth (the stick) and financial incentives (the carrot) combined to persuade firms to locate their factory extensions (branch-plants) in the former Special Areas to the north and the west.

This donor-recipient model imploded when formerly prosperous regions like the West Midlands fell on hard times following the travails of the car industry.

If post-war regional policy was undermined by economic decline, the post-war political settlement on which it was predicated was overthrown by Thatcherism, which changed the rules of the territorial game because regional policy shifted away from redistributing investment between regions to promoting growth within regions, a form of regional autarky that exists to this day.

The rise and fall of EU regional policy

Britain was also involved in the invention of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) in 1975, created to satisfy UK concerns about the agricultural bias of the budget.

But European regional policy really came of age in 1988, when the European Commission (EC) introduced four key principles for regional intervention, namely:

  • concentration – to focus resources on key objectives
  • multi-annual programmes – to introduce longer term planning
  • partnership – to involve regional and local authorities
  • additionality – to make sure EU money was additional to (and not a substitute for) member state money

Since EU regional policy came of age in 1988, there have been five multi-annual programmes, the current one running from 2014-2020.

And although each programme had its own nuances, four trends stand out.

First, the most dramatic trend since 1988 has been the growing significance of the innovation priority. From just 4% of the 1988-93 programme, innovation-related measures have grown rapidly, accounting for 45% of the current programme. This shift has been a big challenge for less developed regions because they don’t have the regional ecosystems (composed of universities and firms) to absorb innovation funds as easily as they could absorb funds for new roads and the like. Regional innovation policy may help to nurture the knowledge economy in the long term, but what does it do for jobs and wellbeing in the short term?

Second, another key trend has been the growing emphasis on results. Until the current programme the European Commission was largely concerned with what it called “absorptive capacity” – the regional authorities’ ability to spend funds in a regulatory compliant manner. Now there is a belated emphasis on results, stressing the outcomes of the policy rather than the policy process itself. To be effective, however, a results-based regional policy needs better indicators, stronger and more credible conditionalities and a monitoring and evaluation system that gives parity of esteem to creativity and compliance. Although EU regional policy aims to promote experimentation and learning, these critically important attributes are in fact smothered by a compliance culture that favours conformity over creativity.

Third, the emphasis on results has triggered a debate about the goals of regional policy. Time was when regional policy was purely concerned to reduce unemployment and facilitate industrial reconversion. But, since the economic crisis in 2008, the European Commission concedes that regional policy needs to address a wider set of disparities – particularly in environmental quality, social wellbeing and governance capacity – goals embodied in the current commitment to “smart, sustainable and inclusive” growth.

And fourth and finally, the regional development debate has undergone a marked institutional turn in recent years in response to burgeoning evidence that the quality of government and the calibre of public sector institutions play a major role in fostering/frustrating development.

All these issues – balancing the goals of innovation and wellbeing, emphasising policy outcomes and holding institutions to account for their performance – will need to be addressed by a revamped British regional policy when the reign of EU regional policy ends in 2020.

Post-Brexit Britain: Threats and Opportunities

From a regional policy perspective, Brexit raises an issue that dwarfs all others and it is this: will London provide the same level of support after 2020 that is currently on offer from Brussels? All the assisted areas in the UK need to concert their efforts to demand a regional policy that is at least as generous as current levels of support.

What worries people in the poorer areas of the UK is that Brussels and London have radically different attitudes to regional policy – a commitment to “cohesion policy” is inscribed in the DNA of Brussels, but Conservative governments are more inclined to balance the budget and shrink the state through “a third parliament of austerity” as the Institute for Fiscal Studies put it recently.

If austerity remains embedded in the DNA of the next Conservative government, as seems likely, the biggest threat is to those areas that currently enjoy the highest level of European regional aid – namely Wales and South West England, where the less developed regions of West Wales and the Valleys and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are located (see Figure 1).

ERDF_ESF_Graph

Source: SPERI (British Political Economy Brief No. 24)

The future need not be all doom and gloom. Brexit offers a real opportunity to re-invent British regional policy by building on the best features of EU policy while avoiding the worst features – and the latter would include the excessively prescriptive priorities, the rigid distinction between different types of region and an audit culture that kills creativity in the name of compliance.

Kevin Morgan is Professor of Governance and Development in the School of Geography and Planning at Cardiff University, where he is also the Dean of Engagement. He is currently a member of the European Commission’s Mirror Group of special advisers on Smart Specialisation. 

Is the Great West on the verge of an energy revolution?

For many centuries, the communities bordering the Severn Estuary experienced strong trading connections, culturally and linguistically aided in no small part by the Brythonic tongues of Welsh and Cornish.

That same Celtic area, which already has strong economic ties, is strengthening links through initiatives such as the GW4 Alliance (bringing together the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter), the Great West Taskforce (a consortium of local enterprise partnerships, major businesses and higher education institutions) and Great Western Cities (a partnership between council leaders in Cardiff, Newport and Bristol).

The synergies which support collaboration across academia, local government and industry are geographically mirrored in the natural resources which enable the development of a strong renewable energy sector based around the Severn Estuary.

From the enviable tidal range, to strong levels of insolation, high wind speeds and a lively wave climate, the environment is perfect for the strategic development of green expertise hubs in South East Wales and the South West of England, underpinned by globally significant research and development in the higher education institutions of both regions.

A key question for many stakeholders in the sustainable infrastructure sector is how best to maximise the economic, environmental and social potential for the region, ensuring that it is properly integrated into the UK’s industrial strategy.

A consultation on the development of a new UK Industrial Strategy was launched earlier this year. The renewable energy sector is a natural fit, and not just because it is explicitly included in the discussion on ‘delivering affordable energy and clean growth’. Renewables are also a key driver in skills, research and innovation, infrastructure and international trade.

Renewable energy already supports huge amounts of supply chain activity in the UK. The offshore wind sector has a target of 50% UK content. Onshore wind uses more than 70% UK content, and the wave and tidal sectors often achieve more than 80% UK content. The lifetime economic value to Wales from onshore wind is calculated at more than £800 million, with the south west of England benefiting to the tune of £300 million.

Extensive supply chains have developed as a consequence of demand for UK content within renewable energy products; these companies span manufacturing, steel fabrication, electronics, engineering, ports and maritime services.

Financial companies, a priority target area for both Cardiff and Bristol, are also moving rapidly into the renewable energy sector, attracted by low-risk investments in the mainstream renewable market, and by vigorous innovation in the nascent wave and tidal sectors.

A discussion about the renewable potential of South Wales and South West England would not be complete without considering the massive tidal range potential.

The earliest discussions around exploiting this phenomenal natural resource date back to the 19th Century. Much more recently, Tidal Lagoon Power was granted a Development Consent Order for the Swansea Tidal Lagoon in 2015, but we are – yet – to see a positive pricing signal from the UK Government which would enable this pathfinder project to proceed.

The recent Hendry Review found strongly in favour of the technology, and said that providing public funding for the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon was a ‘no-regrets’ option.

severn-bridge-813425_1920
The Severn Estuary is a key focus for Tidal Lagoon plans

Tidal lagoons can be deployed almost anywhere with sufficient tidal range. The technology raises the tantalising prospect of the creation of a string of generators along the coastline of the Severn Estuary, as well as in north Wales, Merseyside, the east of England and in many locations globally.

The economic and social benefits to the Severn Estuary could potentially be huge, with development of superb marine and land infrastructure, including significant leisure and tourism potential. The construction of the first six proposed lagoons would generate £27 billion of GDP, with an additional £3 billion for every year of operation. Of the thousands of jobs created, around half would be in the metal fabrication industry.

The effective and sustainable harnessing of the tidal range resource could benefit from the research, development and entrepreneurship of universities in the region. Advanced engineering, which will be needed to support the huge global ambitions of tidal range developers, is highlighted as a key strength of universities in the region by the South West England and South East Wales Science and Innovation Audit. Hydrogen and marine renewables are also significant research interests within the university clusters.

The environmentally benign deployment of large man-made structures in scientifically important inter-tidal zones will require constant monitoring and assessment of impact, drawing on the skills of ecologists and environmental scientists. The most efficient and cost-effective methods of manufacturing and construction of these structures will likewise benefit from the best research in materials science. Universities are critical in ensuring that the UK continues to produce world-class science and scientists.

Energy policy will also need to reflect the changing nature of the electricity generation system exemplified by the available natural resource. The universities which make up the GW4 Alliance have significant assets to provide in this respect.

Naturally, the benefits of the widespread deployment of renewable energy in South Wales and South West England will be mostly realised within the areas of deployment.

But the wider impacts will also be significant. The renewable energy supply chain offers alluring opportunities for a range of companies based across the UK. Sustainable energy production requires products and services from the whole gamut of engineering, legal, construction, digital, communication and public engagement sectors.

The expertise arising from maximising energy generation from renewable sources across the Great West region could support a sizeable export industry. Many UK-based companies have already identified opportunities overseas as the domestic market matures.

The continuing pre-eminence of fossil fuel in society burdens our citizens, communities and civil structures with huge costs arising from ill health, air and water pollution and, of course, a rapidly changing climate.

An expeditious shift to renewable energy would improve our health and financial wellbeing, support local resilience in the facing of changing climate patterns, and contribute towards global attempts to limit the worst impacts of climate change. We all have a part to play in this story to ensure that the Great West region will be a positive force in the coming energy revolution.

David Clubb is the Director of RenewableUK Cymru.

Connecting and collaborating in the cluster

What is the benefit of geographical collaboration in science? Dr Penny Owen, interim executive chair of Life Sciences Hub Wales, demonstrates how building local relationships can have a global impact.

Life sciences by its very nature is a collaborative discipline.

This is true in both a research and a business context, where collaborations are often more successful and have more impact than solo efforts due to the costs and complexities involved.

The Life Sciences Hub Wales exists to promote collaboration and partnership in the sector in Wales, bringing together academic, business, clinical and professional services and funding organisations.

But we are also keen to make links outside Wales and indeed, outside the UK, to ensure Welsh life sciences businesses and entrepreneurs can take advantage of global opportunities.

Regional collaboration

That’s why we are excited by the potential of working with other regional groups, such as the GW4 Alliance, which brings together four of the most research-intensive and innovative universities in the UK; the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.

The Hub, both as an organisation and through its members, already has strong links with each of these institutions.

In fact one of our members, Cotton Mouton Diagnostics, is a successful spin-out of the universities of Exeter and Cardiff.

This South Wales start-up company was launched by academics turned entrepreneurs in 2014 to exploit major business opportunities in the field of point-of-care (PoC) diagnostics.

CMD first moved into the Hub, then expanded into the nearby GE Innovation Village and is now 24 months away from bringing its first product to market.

We want to encourage similar ventures as part of our mission to connect, inspire and accelerate.

Industrial strategy

Regional clusters for life sciences are important drivers of economic growth and catalysts for scientific advancement.

Both Life Sciences Wales and the GW4 Alliance acted as co-signatories on a response to the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper, underlining “the importance of sustained commitment to life and health science clusters”.

This followed the Academy of Medical Sciences’ and Wellcome Trust’s FORUM meeting on Geographical Clusters, which enabled us to develop a vision of the future for regional clusters for life sciences.

Making connections worldwide

Regional clusters for life sciences are also proving successful across the UK and in other parts of the world.

One of the Hub’s first international agreements was the historic memorandum of understanding we signed with Sherbrooke Innopole, our equivalent body in Quebec, Canada, which itself is at the heart of a regional life sciences cluster.

The agreement has opened up valuable opportunities for life sciences companies in both countries that they would not have otherwise had.

Last summer we strengthened our overseas relationships by signing an international partnership agreement with four science parks and clusters – Sherbrooke Innopole, Inartis Foundation/Health Valley in Switzerland, LifeTechValley in Belgium and Medicon Village in Sweden.

The agreement, called Twins’ International MultiHelix, will benefit each organisation’s members by helping with investments and strengthening their work in an international setting.

The Hub is also a member of the Council of European BioRegions (CEBR), a network of life science clusters across Europe that has hundreds of cluster partners across the world.

CEBR exists to create a European platform for cluster-driven initiatives, to create a profile for European clusters on the world stage and to transform competitiveness into co-operation.

Such international co-operation and collaboration is invaluable for the future of our sector, inspiring and discovering new talent and opening up a world of new opportunities.

Dr Penny Owen is interim executive chair of the Life Sciences Hub Wales. She has more than 20 years’ experience of working in the life sciences sector, specifically in R&D, marketing and operations.

Mobilising the potential of the Great Western Force

Can the Great West emulate the success of the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine? Professor Gill Bristow of Cardiff University considers the opportunity for the region to deliver on the UK Government’s place-based Industrial Strategy

With the launch of the new Industrial Strategy Green Paper, the UK Government has signaled its intent to develop a place-based approach to build upon distinct industrial assets and innovation potential of each part of the country. The Green Paper states that for Britain to achieve maximum prosperity and for the economy to work for everyone, then “all parts of the country must be firing on all cylinders”. So, a key question becomes: what is needed for the cities and regions of South East Wales and the South West of England to exploit the potential of this new place-based approach?

SWW SIA main imageThe first step for any region seeking to develop a placed-based industrial and innovation strategy is to undertake a thorough assessment and diagnosis of its particular industrial strengths, its economic assets and resources, and its new and developing areas of growth and innovation potential. In this respect, South West England and South East Wales have a strong foundation on which to build, demonstrated by the Science and Innovation Audit published last November. This provided a unique opportunity to identify areas of world-leading research and innovation, with the Audit highlighting the region’s strengths in advanced engineering, digital innovation, energy generation and environmental technologies. The Audit was also significant in bringing together some of the regions’ key institutions and industrial partners in the execution of this task. Thus the GW4 Alliance of the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter formed part of a wider Great West Taskforce which included the Universities of the West of England and Plymouth, as well as key businesses and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Institutional collaboration of this kind will be critical to the development of an effective place-based industrial strategy and certainly will be vital for any emerging strategy to gain wider political traction. Indeed, the UK Government’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has clearly indicated that it expects networks of collaborating universities such as the GW4 Alliance and the N8 Research Partnership to be key players in the new place-based approach. This makes very good sense. Universities are uniquely placed to act as key connectors in their regional economies and innovation ecosystems. They are place-bound and do not move in and out of their localities. Yet through their networks of knowledge production and exchange, they have unique capacities to bind industrial sectors into places, and to connect local firms with global networks and markets.

There is good reason to expect that our universities will play a particularly important role in this region as we progress from debating the Green Paper’s proposals to implementing them in practice. A central question here becomes who will co-ordinate, design and deliver a place-based industrial and innovation strategy for the Great Western ‘region’? A place-based strategy demands effective place leadership yet this is a territory of region which doesn’t have a co-ordinating administrative authority or any clearly aligned governance structures. The territory cuts across the Wales-England border and thus the boundaries of Welsh devolution, and includes a patchwork of metropolitan and local authorities and emerging city-region governance arrangements and plans. For the foreseeable future, this means this region will continue to be defined and shaped by the strategic relationships between its key institutions and stakeholders – the GW4 Alliance, the Great West Taskforce and the fledgling Great Western Cities collaboration between Cardiff, Newport and Bristol. As such, it is these alliances that will play a critical role in mobilising and co-ordinating the resources and policy levers of the region’s different authorities and their various devolution deals. For example, it is vital that any industrial strategy covering South East Wales and the South West of England complements the £1.2 billion City Deal for the nascent Cardiff Capital Region. The GW4 Alliance in particular, with its existing strategic partnerships, can play a critical role in making connections both horizontally amongst local authorities, and vertically to the Welsh and UK Governments.

GreatThinking 2
There is a concentration of data science and analytics expertise in the Great West

The GW4 Alliance can also play a vitally important role in ensuring that any place-based industrial strategy for the region is suitably broad and does more than simply target key sectors or anchor firms. An effective place-based strategy must recognise that the fortunes of key sectors and firms are fundamentally shaped by the economic context within which they operate. Their ability to innovate and fully mobilise their latent potential will depend upon key factors in the local and regional economy such as levels of educational attainment and graduate retention, the management practices of firms and their propensity to export and innovate, as well as the wider physical and social infrastructures around them. Understanding the role and importance of these various people and place-based factors suggests an effective industrial strategy will need to mobilise and draw upon the GW4’s breadth of expertise in data science and analytics and the wider social sciences. This will be critical if we are to fully understand the transformative potential of key innovations, and be able to catalyse appropriately designed and targeted policy interventions.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, an effective place-based industrial strategy will only be achieved if there is some overall vision and strategy agreed by all partners, and a clear set of objectives for collective action. Having an audit of strengths and opportunities is one thing. Having a clear roadmap for how to develop and maximise these is another. Our universities have enormous power to convene relevant stakeholders, orchestrate dialogue and partnership development and facilitate this activity. In the meantime, progress can be made with the development of a clear regional identity and brand. This will have important symbolic value in demonstrating the region’s coherence and strategic intent to external parties, as well as providing an identity around which the various stakeholders within the region can coalesce. Other UK regions are already seeing the advantages of mobilising in this way. We have seen the emergence of ‘the Northern Powerhouse’ and ‘the Midlands Engine’. Building on the GW4 Alliance and the Great West Taskforce, why not develop an identity under the banner of the ‘Great Western Force’? Deploying the word ‘force’ has some intuitive appeal, not least for conveying strength and a sense of forward momentum. It also usefully captures something of the region’s main industrial assets around energy, the environment and advanced engineering, and of the important alliances and taskforces which underpin its development and which will be key to its future.

All of this suggests that for the Great West region, as indeed for many other regions which have sought to develop effective place-based development strategies, it is not a question as to whether it has the ability to achieve its strategic development potential, but rather what needs to be done and by whom to ensure that it does.

Professor Gill Bristow is Dean of Research for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of Economic Geography at Cardiff University and her research interests include regional economic development and policy.

Isambard could be the start of a ‘new generation’ of supercomputers

Simulations using supercomputers have become a fundamental underpinning technology for much of today’s scientific progress, giving rise to what we now term ‘computational science’. In part this change has been supported by the rapid increases in supercomputer performance that have been enabled by Moore’s Law, a phenomenon that results in available performance roughly doubling every two years, while cost stays roughly constant.

Over the last 15 years or so, supercomputer architectures have remained relatively unchanged. As older architectures have started to hit significant technical challenges, new architectures have begun to emerge. Some of these architectures take a very different architectural approach, employing very lightweight parallel execution units along with the ability to access data in high bandwidth memory.

The first part of Isambard arrives at the Met Office
The first part of Isambard arrives at the Met Office

ARM, a global technology company, is a new entrant into the high performance computing (HPC) space. ARM doesn’t make central processing unit (CPU) devices themselves. Instead, ARM licenses the design of CPU cores to companies that do make CPU devices, and by the billions. ARM is best known for its success in the mobile space, where ARM CPU cores power most mobile phones, tablets, and many other consumer gadgets. More recently, ARM has released designs targeting the supercomputing space. This has enabled several companies that are new to high performance computing to design CPUs for the HPC market, significantly changing the competitive landscape.

Because ARM’s HPC designs are relatively recent developments, there have been no large-scale production supercomputers based on the ARM architecture yet. This makes it difficult for supercomputer users and vendors to know how well the various ARM-based server chips will perform on real scientific workloads.

To solve this problem, as part of EPSRC’s recent funding of a new cohort of Tier 2 HPC centres, the GW4 Alliance of the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter has teamed up with the Met Office and Cray to design and build ‘Isambard’, the world’s first large-scale, production, ARM-based supercomputer.

Isambard will include over 10,000, high-performance 64-bit ARM cores – making it one of the largest such machines anywhere in the world.

It will enable direct performance comparisons at scale with existing supercomputers, such as the UK’s current national supercomputer funded by EPSRC, Archer.

Isambard will also include a small number of processors based on other advanced architectures, such as Intel’s latest Xeon Phi (based on their Knights Landing many-core CPU), and NVIDIA’s latest Pascal™ based P100 Tesla® GPUs. Isambard will thus enable, for the first time, direct architectural comparisons between many of the likely candidates for next-generation supercomputers. It will also enable direct comparisons with Archer, the UK’s current national supercomputer service, as both Isambard and Archer will sport the same high performance interconnect, and both will use Cray’s high-quality optimising software environment.

Isambard is an exciting experiment, enabled by EPSRC’s investment in Tier 2 HPC systems. If we discover that ARM processors are competitive in HPC, then Isambard could be the first of a new generation of ARM-based supercomputers, ushering in an era of wider architectural choice, and greater opportunity for differentiation between vendors.

These outcomes should mean that scientists can choose systems more highly optimised to solve their problem, enabling them to deliver even more exciting scientific breakthroughs at greater cost effectiveness than ever before.

Read the original blog post at the EPSRC