Funding and collaboration is the key to unlocking the productivity in the North, according to a panel of education experts who debated the subject at the UK Northern Powerhouse International Conference and Exhibition.
According to Peter Simpson, Director of N8, the plan set out in the recent Independent Economic Review could make the North globally competitive on a number of levels if universities, businesses and the government all work together to drive forward the region’s four key economic sectors.
Dr Simpson told the audience in Manchester: “There is potential to reinvent Northern economy in areas of digital, life sciences and manufacturing. The potential is there if we deliver on the strategy that’s put in place. Universities want to do it, but there are some limitations around funding and relationships, around getting the business community and universities and cities together to maximize potential. Seeds of productivity are there with the four sectors identified in the review and we need to work together to make that a reality.”
A call for more government funding to be allocated to the North was also a view widely shared by the panel, chaired by broadcaster John Humphrys and featuring Andy Moss, Pearson UK; Chris Ball, Shaw Trust; Colin Sinclair, Liverpool Knowledge Quarter; and Professor Andrew Slade, Leeds Beckett University.
Dr Simpson said: “Numbers indicate that a high percentage of research innovation funding goes to the South of England. Private sector investment in R&D in the North significantly outstrips the proportion of what we get from the government. Private sector is willing to say the North is a great place to do research and innovation and we would ask the government to step up as well and match this support.”
The audience also heard how the plans for improving transport in the Northern Powerhouse will be vital to allowing the North to reach its full potential and how digital infrastructure must be central to these developments.
Colin Sinclair, Chief Executive of Liverpool Knowledge Quarter, said: “We need to create the right environment for productivity. If you’re stuck in a traffic jam or can’t log on your business isn’t very productive. If there’s brilliant academic research taking place in our universities but not being commercialised to capture that technology then you’re not very productive. So key is to create the environment for it, which is why this Northern Powerhouse concept is so vital, because a lot of it centres on investment in infrastructure and that needs to take place in the North of England as well as in the South East.”
Dr Simpson added: “Infrastructure for the North isn’t just faster roads and faster trains it is about broadband, so people can work wherever they are. This needs to be fixed at the same time as the transport infrastructure is fixed – not afterwards.”