Joint-op ed by Dr Annette Bramley, director, N8 Research Partnership and Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry MP


The entrepreneurship, innovation and dynamism that became synonymous with the North during the Industrial Revolution are being seen again in the Northern Powerhouse of today.

Last month, the Government helped launch three new state-of-the-art research centres in Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing District – home to aerospace giant Boeing’s new fabrication facility.

Supported by over £10m of Government investment, these research facilities build upon the UK’s scientific research leadership to equip industry in key priorities of the Government’s Industrial Strategy.

Built on the site of the former Orgreave coking plant, these new centres are an analogy for the North’s economic transformation in the last three decades and a shift from manufacturing to advanced manufacturing, from heavy industry to digital and smart technology.

It’s a glimpse of the future not just for the Northern Powerhouse but for the whole of the UK as we work to build a more balanced, mixed economy which is ready to embrace all the opportunities that come with our departure from the European Union – an economy which is fit for the future.

As we race towards a Fourth Industrial Revolution in which digital technology is profoundly changing our economy and our daily lives, this Government is doing everything it can to support Northern businesses to innovate and stay ahead of the technological curve.

That means ensuring that Northern businesses have the funding, resources and backing they need to flourish in a globally competitive economy.

Through the £400m Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF) and the £120 million North East Fund, the Government is helping SMEs gain unprecedented access to the capital they need to start-up, scale-up or stay ahead.

To help our rapidly growing tech sector, we’re also pressing ahead with our 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme (5GTT) in the Northern Powerhouse. Several projects are now up and running including:


  • The Liverpool 5G Testbed which uses 5G technology to relieve the pressures of health and social care, including management of loneliness in older adults.


  • The 5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT) project with a focus on rural coverage and applications located in rural Cumbria, Northumberland and North Yorkshire.


  • The Trans-Pennine Initiative to upgrade the Network Rail test track and install trackside infrastructure along part of the Trans-Pennine route to support the rapid rollout of full-fibre and 5G networks.


It’s a very exciting time for digital connectivity in the Northern Powerhouse and there is more to come.

However, to maintain the place of the Northern Powerhouse at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Government must foster deeper links between the world-leading universities of the North and organisations developing the next generation of technology to help businesses grow and solve the grand challenges of our time.

The Government recognises the potential of innovation to drive the national economy, and has set an ambitious target of 2.4% of GDP being invested in R&D by 2027. Without a doubt, increasing the level of both public and private research and innovation across the North of England is an absolute requirement if this target is to be reached.

But, we also need more research and innovation within the Northern Powerhouse, to drive the region through creating knowledge for new and existing businesses, creating jobs in the region, attracting talent because of the fantastic quality of life combined with professional opportunities, data, analysis and innovation to improve our public services.

This means creating local and regional innovation ecosystems which link universities with prime industries and smaller businesses and with services such as the health service, transport or the police.

One example of this is the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration, led by Newcastle University in partnership with the strategic industrial partner Siemens and a range of academic and business collaborators. They have developed a “plug and play” energy system simulation, to study our future energy mix and the optimal choices we need to make for the future.

Having critical mass and engagement with business, local and national government means that this team can study the questions that really matter for our future energy supplies. And it’s that engagement with the people that will use research locally, in the public sector or in business, which is crucial for driving the Northern Powerhouse.

Our united ambition is to make the N8 Research Partnership a globally recognised cluster of research, innovation and training.  We want to attract the funding, talent and businesses to the North of England that will deliver new knowledge, innovation, and high value jobs within the universities and in the wider economy.  And in so doing, we want to make the North of England a “go-to” ecosystem that can help deliver the 2.4% target.

We can only do this by collaborating for scale, investing in research and innovation and by having the leadership that will drive this ecosystem culture to embrace genuine citizenship and stakeholder engagement for bolder, more concrete impacts for the Northern Powerhouse and beyond.