N8 Research Partnership salutes UK’s government’s innovation vision


In response to the government’s new innovations strategy, Dr Annette Bramley, director of the N8 Research Partnership, the alliance of the North of England’s eight research intensive universities said:

“It’s fantastic to see the UK government setting out its vision for innovation. Businesses have been crying out for long-term stable commitments to research and innovation so that they can invest in commercialisation and skills in places all around the UK. We’re very encouraged that Institutions and Places is one of the core elements of the strategy, and that the government has recognised it needs to tap into the expertise of universities to achieve its ambitions.

By enabling mechanisms to encourage private sector investment while committing to increase its own R&D spending by £22bn, the government is helping to nurture ecosystems that will tap into local and regional economic strengths. This government is facilitating growth – in the economy, in jobs and in productivity. Connecting innovation to other economic development activities makes perfect sense. Providing long-term funding and support in the regions alongside infrastructure and skills programmes will make more parts of the UK attractive for private investment – including from overseas.

If the government is to achieve its innovation goals, it needs to give special attention to correcting market-failures in the spatial distribution of research and innovation funding in the UK. The five further projects funded by the Strength in Places fund is a welcome step in the right direction – and there is a huge wealth of research and development excellence all over the UK that needs unlocking to improve our productivity. Therefore, the independent review to assess the landscape of UK organisations undertaking all forms of research, development and innovation is another welcome component of this strategy.

Addressing this longstanding issue is truly a ‘win-win’ opportunity. It will boost enterprise, deliver Net Zero carbon emissions and fulfil the government’s ambitions of becoming a science superpower. The government can only do that by tapping into the diverse knowledge, experience and talent in places and organisations right around the UK, and across all sectors of industry. Innovation comes in many shapes and sizes, and from many different places. Businesses in the creative and cultural sectors have much to offer alongside those in science and engineering.

To address the climate emergency, rebuild our economy in the wake of the pandemic and ensure an increase in productivity and living standards, we need to ensure as many places and businesses as possible are able to build clusters of expertise equivalent to the biomedical super-cluster in the Golden Triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London. In the North of England we have universities and further education providing the science and skills for the solutions to these challenges, in lock-step with businesses commercialising innovation, creating jobs and growing the green economy.

We call on the government to back the back the N8 Research Partnership’s Net Zero North programme; to invest in the sustainable hydrogen economy and nature-based methods for adapting to and mitigating climate change across the Northern Powerhouse. This regional collaboration will bring the skills, innovation and commercialisation needed at scale to kickstart this low carbon super-cluster and level-up through the green economy.

Innovations and businesses of the future will emerge at the interfaces between sectors and technologies.  Today’s announcement is substantial, but will not be enough in the long term to secure prosperity and to maintain the UK’s place as a world-leading innovation nation. Promoting the flow of ideas, knowledge and experience within and between clusters will be just as important as innovation to achieve the goals set out here- incentivising collaboration and healthy rivalry between places rather than unhealthy competition will grow our capabilities and maximise the return on public investment.

The N8, and our colleagues across industry, further and higher education in the North, look forward to working with the government to make this magnificent vision a reality.”