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Science and Innovation: Levelling Up

Volume 709: debated on Tuesday 22 February 2022

2. What steps he is taking to support the growth of science and innovation through the Government's levelling-up agenda. (905666)

12. What steps he is taking to support the growth of science and innovation through the Government's levelling-up agenda. (905677)

16. What steps he is taking to support the growth of science and innovation through the Government's levelling-up agenda. (905681)

As part of our step-change increase in investment in science research an innovation—an increase of 30% over the next three years to £20 billion a year—we are putting levelling up at the heart of our investment through clusters around the country. That is why we are putting £200 million into the strength in places fund for 12 projects across the UK; making the groundbreaking pledge that 55% of BEIS funding will go outside the greater south-east; launching three innovation accelerators in Glasgow, Manchester and the west midlands; and extending eight freeports, with two in Scotland.

I thank the Minister for his answer. In Newcastle-under-Lyme, Keele University plays a substantial role in levelling up north Staffordshire through its work with local authorities and its Keele deals addressing economy, health, culture and social inclusion. There is also the enterprise zone, including the science and innovation park, which provides a home and support mechanism for more than 50 companies, with more to come. Will the Minister confirm that universities’ role in such work will be supported as part of our levelling-up agenda, as we get more money spent outside the south-east?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I pay tribute to his work and that of Keele. The enterprise zone is first class—similarly, the work of Keele University. I confirm that we are taking into account the very important role of universities in innovation and levelling up. He will see that reflected in the allocation of £40 billion to UK Research and Innovation and Innovate UK in the next three years.

The advanced manufacturing research centre at Sheffield University would like to open an innovation facility at Doncaster Sheffield airport, which may bring the likes of Boeing and hybrid air vehicles to Doncaster. It needs just £24 million to do that. I have met the Minister on the subject before. Will he come to Doncaster and meet all the stakeholders to see if we can get the project moving forward and let the real levelling up begin?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, because this is the third time that he has raised this matter with me. He makes in important point. The Boeing interest in Doncaster Sheffield airport is part of our plan to grow an aerospace cluster around the whole of the UK. I very much welcome the opportunity to visit him and meet Boeing and local stakeholders.

Last September, Llandudno in Aberconwy was identified as having the fastest economic recovery in the UK and, last week, an analysis of Companies House filings identified it as the start-up capital of the UK. I pay tribute to the entrepreneurs and businesses for making that happen. Will my hon. Friend the Minister join me in Llandudno with some of those entrepreneurs to see how we can nurture those green shoots, secure the growth and turn Llandudno into a growth and enterprise hub for north Wales?

With pleasure. My hon. Friend makes an important point: the Welsh dragon is roaring not just on the rugby pitch and in tourism, where Llandudno is the queen of Welsh resorts, but in the science, research and innovation economy. With the north Wales energy corridor, the south Wales life sciences cluster and plant health at Aberystwyth, Wales is a science and innovation engine that we intend to support. I pay tribute to his work in the area and look forward to visiting the Llandudno cluster as part of our work on supporting clusters around the UK.

The Minister may be aware that many rural parts of the north feel that levelling up does not really apply to them, but of course it must and it should. The Minister may be aware of Cumbria’s energy coast. We are a country with plenty of wind, plenty of water and plenty of coast. We should bear in mind that, after Canada, the UK has the second largest tidal range on planet earth and we are making use of nearly none of it. Will he commit to making sure there is a tidal, marine and hydro-energy hub in Cumbria, based in Kendal where Gilkes is so wonderfully based?

I absolutely agree. As a rural MP, I do not need to take any lectures from the Liberal Democrats on the importance of rural innovation. I will address the specific point about tidal power: we have just put £30 million into it. It would be good hear the hon. Gentleman—and his party—applaud the nuclear industry, which is an important part of that region.

I thank the Minister for his answers. With reference to university places for those from low-income backgrounds, will he consider greater financial aid for STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—for students from any part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to find their passion and long-term career?

The hon. Member makes a really important point that is at the heart of our £100 million innovation accelerator pilot programme. We have chosen the locations—Glasgow, Manchester and the west midlands—for the initial tranche, because we want to invest in places where there is strong world-class research and development and innovation cheek by jowl with lamentable deprivation. I very much hope that over the next few years we can extend it out to areas, including parts of Northern Ireland, where that similar pattern of excellence alongside deprivation is sadly still present.

Levelling up, really? The Campaign for Science and Engineering has shown that the proposals in the White Paper simply freeze the current proportion of regional science spend, with the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London continuing to receive the majority of public sector science spend. When it comes to private sector science spend, London’s share has actually doubled under Conservative Governments, because they will not give our towns and cities the powers and investment they need to build strong science economies. Will the Minister say whether the proportion of public science spend going to the regions will actually increase as a consequence of the levelling-up White Paper, or is this just more broken promises from the department for funny numbers?

I suggest the hon. Lady reads the levelling-up White Paper. If she reads it, she will see that it is a very substantial document that deals with precisely the points she has just made. [Interruption.] I will deal with the specific question she asked about devolution and extending investment around the country. That is why we have made a pledge—a pledge that the Labour party never made, by the way—to increase R&D spending outside the greater south-east. Our Department, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is responsible for 75% of R&D, will move to being 55% outside the south-east. The point she misses is that we do not level up this country by destroying the golden triangle; we level up by building the clusters, moving from a discovery economy to a development economy. As a Member for the north-east, I thought she would be applauding the phenomenal growth in the north-east as a result of our policies.

Obviously, I welcome the targets to increase investment through levelling up in our regions, but the thing that really matters is not what the Government say in White Papers, but how the money gets to those businesses, particularly in Rossendale, Darwen and east Lancashire more widely. Will the Minister commit to publishing an easy guide for local businesses to work out how, through their innovation and their own R&D, they can access some of that new funding? Trash-talking levelling up by those on the Opposition Benches does not go down well in east Lancashire or anywhere in the north, because we believe in this programme.

My right hon. Friend makes a really important point. It was surprising to hear the Opposition not mention the phenomenal investment that is pouring in. In the end, levelling up will be achieved by the businesses of this country investing in partnership with us. I welcome the Bentley £2.5 billion investment and the Aston Martin investment in Wales. That is happening right now. My right hon. Friend’s point is well made. As part of our significant increase in Innovate UK funding, we are looking at how we can ensure small businesses find it easier to access grant funding. We are dramatically increasing Innovate UK funding. The key test will be whether small businesses around the country can access it.