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Commercialisation of Research: North-east England

Volume 732: debated on Wednesday 3 May 2023

4. What steps she is taking to support the commercialisation of science and technology research in the north-east. (904749)

Having worked on coalfield regeneration in the north-east, I am delighted to report that it is becoming a science and technology powerhouse economy in the UK. I have been up three times since taking on this role, particularly to see NETPark, the extraordinary north-east technology park, whose third phase of expansion has now been announced. We put £5 million into helping it grow, and world-class companies such as Kromek are now there. We have also put £5 million into the Northern Accelerator in collaboration with six north-east universities, and we have nine Catapult hubs in the north-east. Let us say it loud and clear: the north-east is building the new economy of tomorrow.

Led by Durham University, the Northern Accelerator has invested more than £100 million in partner university spin-outs in the past five years, bringing skilled jobs and opportunities to my constituents and across the region, but if the Minister is really serious about levelling up Durham, can he explain why the north-east receives just 4% of Research England’s budget and six times less money than London?

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s leadership on this issue, because it is really important. Traditionally, our research funding follows excellence, and that is why, say, Northumbria University has shot up the league tables in the last few years from 42nd to 16th—it is knocking on the door of the Russell Group—and the northern universities are delivering increasingly excellent science. But there is something else. Last year there was £50 billion-worth of private investment in research and development, which is matching the public investment, and as we go to £20 billion of public R&D, a wave of private money will start to come into the north-east. The answer to her question is that this is about building the applied science into the industries of tomorrow, which the north-east is doing.

Does the Minister agree that the Catapult centres in the north-east, as well as the manufacturing technology centre in my constituency, are the way forward in commercialising some of the great ideas that are coming from the academic world?

Yes, I absolutely agree. That is why we have put £1.9 billion into the Catapult network—our network for deep industrial collaboration with our universities. In the north-east, we have the offshore renewables Catapult in Blyth, the digital Catapult in Sunderland and the satellite applications Catapult in Durham. This is a deep investment in the north-east economy of tomorrow.

One of the companies based in NETPark is Pragmatic Semiconductor, which is innovating chip production. It has indicated that it would consider moving its operations overseas if the UK fails to produce a semiconductor strategy that funds and supports chip production. We have been asking for this strategy for years now, so can the Minister assure the House not only that the strategy is imminent and will be published very shortly, but that it will properly fund and support companies such as Pragmatic?

Yes. The Under-Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), has already met the company concerned, and in a matter of days we will be setting out the semiconductor strategy, which will answer exactly the question that the hon. Lady has raised.