North East is urged to lead on research as report shows region lags behind rest of UK

The CBI has urged the North East to boost its innovation opportunities after a report was released showing the region invests less money in research and development than most of the UK.

A new study has been published which throws a spotlight on UK firms which are carrying out R&D and innovation in a range of sectors, from agriculture to aerospace.

However, the ‘Don’t wait, innovate’ paper shows UK investment is limited outside the South East, the top performing region ploughing the most into R&D, and that the North East lags way behind, investing less in research than ten of the UK’s 12 regions.

The CBI has now called for the creation of new ‘Catapult Quarters’ in a bid to make the most of innovators and connect firms with academia to help drive overall UK growth.

Research and development spending figures for the North East and North West have been combined, for confidentiality reasons according to the ONS, yet show it has spent just £212m in 2017 compared to the South East’s £611m and London’s £447m.

The UK currently spends 1.7% of GDP on R&D – far below the 2.4% OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average – yet growing R&D across the country could provide a £7.3bn boost to UK R&D spend, the CBI says.

Just three regions account for 52% of UK R&D spend – London, South East & East of England – and just five of the UK’s forty sub-regions are investing over 3% of GDP. The UK is also well behind comparator countries like Germany and Belgium, which spend close to 3% of GDP R&D.

Despite showing the North East lags behind most of the UK in R&D terms, the report highlights work being carried out across the region which is at the forefront of efforts to promote healthy ageing, by building a reputation as an international hub for the development of medical science.

The report shows the North East is building a reputation as an international hub for the development of medical science
(Image: Getty Images)

The report – unveiled by CBI director-general Carolyn Fairburn at the opening of Reckitt Benckiser’s (RB) new £105m Science and Innovation Centre in Hull – says it is also playing host to a thriving life sciences eco-system including innovative NHS healthcare organisations, national centres of excellence and an established pharmaceutical manufacturing sector.

The CBI is calling on the next government to drive forward more R&D across the region and beyond, arguing that the UK must capture the benefits that flow from improving innovation-led growth across the country by creating new regional network of Catapult Quarters across the UK.

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Catapults are not-for-profit, independent centres which connect businesses with the UK’s research and academic communities.

Each Catapult centre specialises in a different area of technology, but all offer a space with the facilities and expertise to enable businesses and researchers to collaboratively solve key problems and develop new products and services on a commercial scale.

Felicity Burch, CBI innovation and digital director, said: “For centuries, the UK has been a home for global innovation.  Scientific progress has not only transformed our economy, it’s been the single biggest driver of productivity and helped tackle some of our society’s biggest challenges.

“But with the continued political uncertainty and our competitors investing more in innovation, the next Government must re-launch the UK as one of the best places in the world to imagine, invest and invent. This report lays out concrete initiatives that can kickstart public and private investment across our country.

Sarah Glendinning Regional Director CBI North
(Image: The Bigger Picture Agency Ltd/Newcastle High School for Girls)

CBI regional director for the North East Sarah Glendinning said: “By running with this agenda, business and Government can in partnership unleash the innovative potential of towns and cities throughout the UK.  Throughout The North East there are already a wealth of successful stories of companies coming together in their regions to the benefit of society and the economy.

“Imagine – if R&D spending increases to at least 3% of GDP and Catapult Quarters are created – how much further could the UK grow its successful innovation-based economy and break ground on the grand challenges of our time.”

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