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Levelling up…what’s it all about?

WMG Birmingham2 55 large scaled 1

Our Executive Chair, David Kidney, has been poring over the Levelling Up White Paper – so that you don’t have to!

David says he has been looking for indicators of new investment in the West Midlands:

“A lot of Government initiatives are already in progress and the spending for them has been announced previously. I have concentrated on identifying new spending promises to the West Midlands where there may therefore be opportunities for investment that will boost businesses in our region.”

On R&D investment, the White Paper states:

The UK is putting a competitive advantage in science and technology at the heart of a new economic model. A series of new Research and Development (R&D) investments will strengthen our science base across the country. The increase in public R&D investment to £20bn by 2024-25 and the target for total UK R&D investment to reach 2.4% of GDP by 2027 must see every region of the UK experience an uplift in investment.

The aspect that gives us hope of a boost to R&D in the West Midlands is that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will aim to invest at least 55% of its total domestic R&D funding outside the Greater South East by 2024-25.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will increase National Institute for Health Research investment outside London, Oxford and Cambridge.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) will expand the regional footprint of the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (Dstl). It is worth bearing in mind here that the Defence Medical Service has its HQ in the West Midlands, its national trauma centre is in Birmingham and the national rehabilitation centre is at Loughborough in the East Midlands.

R&D investment outside the Greater South East rise by at least a third over the Spending Review period and at least 40% by 2030, with that additional Government funding seeking to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long-term to stimulate innovation and productivity growth.

In addition, the Government will target £100m of investment in three new Innovation Accelerators, private-public-academic partnerships which will aim to replicate the Stanford-Silicon Valley and MIT-Greater Boston models of clustering research excellence and its direct adoption by allied industries. These pilots will be centred on Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Glasgow City-Region. These new clusters will be our Fourth Industrial Revolution Foundries, leveraging our global lead in scientific research.

To date, the West Midlands Combined Authority has worked with BEIS to suggest what an Innovation Deal (or Innovation Accelerator) should look like. This work began last year and going forward it is expected that these deals will be developed through a co-design process with BEIS over the coming months. If the aim of an Innovation Deal is to ‘boost R&D&I capacity in clusters with high potential to become internationally significant, we believe that the same structure should be used for any cluster our region wants to grow.

The term cluster is used in the White Paper to describe the geographic concentration of interconnected companies and institutions. Clusters are ecosystems in which people meet and exchange ideas, goods and services as part of common supply chains. By locating near one another, firms benefit from the area’s pool of expertise, finance and skilled workers, its access to component suppliers and its channels for spreading information and innovation.

The White Paper states that:

Clusters demonstrate that it is not just what happens inside companies that matters. The surrounding economic system also plays a vital role in generating jobs, growth and productivity. Clusters of industrial activity correlate with measures of economic value-added, illustrating their potency as drivers of skilled jobs, productivity and GDP in places. Often, they are found close higher education (HE) institutions, as centres of research and development.

There is also a promise of additional regeneration funding for 20 towns and cities and it has already been revealed that one of the 20 will be Wolverhampton. The White Paper states:

We will also regenerate 20 of our towns and cities by assembling and remediating brownfield land and working with the private sector to bring about transformational developments combining housing, retail and business in sustainable, walkable, beautiful new neighbourhoods. These new developments amongst others will be supported by an Office for Place which will pioneer design and beauty, promoting better architectural aesthetics to ensure they enhance existing settlements, gladden the eye and lift the heart.

Lastly, of relevance may be a statement in the White Paper on devolution deals which specifically name checks the West Midlands as follows:

We want to usher in a devolution revolution, introducing a new model for counties with mayors or “governors”. We will open negotiations on trailblazer deeper devolution deals with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester combined authorities. These deals will act as the blueprint for other mayoral combined authorities (MCAs) to follow, with bids for more powers welcome.