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Regional Innovation

Volume 734: debated on Wednesday 14 June 2023

To support innovation across the whole of the UK, a central pillar of our innovation nation mission, the UK Government are investing £52 billion in public research and development over these next three years. We have made a groundbreaking commitment in the levelling up White Paper to increase the percentage of Government R&D outside of the greater south-east, which is, of course, home to some of our historic research institutes, by 40%. We have an active programme—through the Catapults, the innovation accelerators and cluster support—all around the UK to that end.

Innovation is in the DNA of the businesses in my constituency, including Surespan, a leading manufacturer of roof access hatches, and Phoenix Tooling and Development—after all, our region was the birthplace of the industrial revolution. I support the Government’s levelling-up mission, but will the Minister bring forward individual regional targets for rebalancing research and development funding, as recommended by a House of Lords Committee report?

Let me first pay tribute to Surespan and Phoenix. Two weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I were in Coventry in the west midlands with the Chancellor, and I have been working closely with Mayor Andy Street on his excellent programmes. We have an advanced manufacturing Catapult in the west midlands. Coventry and Warwick are rapidly becoming world-recognised centres in a whole raft of materials and in robotics. We are working on the Birmingham innovation district, and we have put one of our three innovation accelerators—£30 million—into the west midlands. My right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) makes an important point, though, about regional R&D clusters; that is public and private sector money. We will set out this autumn our digital cluster map showing all the private and public funding, and how we intend to increase it by region.

The Government recently launched a call for space infrastructure projects, and West Lindsey District Council has proposed plans to work with the Satellite Applications Catapult, which the Minister mentioned, at RAF Scampton, as part of a £300 million levelling-up deal. What is the logic of one part of Government talking about levelling up and innovation and another part talking about putting a migrant camp in the middle of it, preventing all that infrastructure?

My right hon. Friend will appreciate that, as the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, I cannot comment on Home Office plans to deal with refugees, but I can pay tribute to the work of Scampton Holdings Ltd and the very innovative proposal for the regeneration of that site with a whole raft of facilities, including in innovation support. I very much look forward to coming up in due course, once the refugee issue is sorted, to support him in taking that forward.

Metro Mayors have an important role to play in driving innovation in the regions. Can the Minister give an assurance that he will work closely with them?

Yes, I am absolutely delighted to do so. The Metro Mayors are key parts of our innovation ecosystem, and the three innovation accelerators that have we put in place are fundamentally co-created and led from the bottom up in Glasgow, Manchester and the west midlands. I am actively reaching out to work with the Metro Mayors, as well as with devolved Science Ministers, on extending our science investment to unify all regions of this country and strengthen those urban economies.

But the problem is that in my constituency in the Yorkshire coalfield, there are 20 times fewer people employed in science and technology innovation than in Cambridge. We can be proud of what Cambridge has achieved, but why should areas such as mine be so left behind? There is no economic reason why the golden triangle between Greater London, Cambridge and Oxford should be preferred over the rest of the country, so is it pure politics?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman could not be more wrong; it is quite the opposite. The truth is that the Oxford-Cambridge-London triangle is golden for a reason: it is home to two of the world’s top three universities and five of top 15. Our central mission is to ensure that we grow an R&D economy all around the country that nurtures and invests in research, including a fantastic cluster in Yorkshire: the Yorkshire bioeconomy, advanced manufacturing in Sheffield, and Doncaster. We are investing in all that, but one does not create the Oxford-Cambridge triangle overnight; it requires us to invest with local leaders, as they are doing across the north-east in County Durham and Northumbria, in the innovative companies of tomorrow. This is a historic moment for the former coalfields.

I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party group on photonics and quantum. The Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics at the University of Strathclyde has played a leading role in the industrial strategy challenge fund, collaborating with more companies and projects than any other organisation, and it has been praised as a key strength in the national quantum strategy. The centre is supported by the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise, but despite its being established at the UK Government’s invitation, the UK Government have provided no core funding. What discussion has the Minister had with Treasury colleagues on providing that core funding to a vital part of the quantum technology landscape?

I have to say, that is a bit rich given that the incredible strength of Scottish science and research is built largely on long-term UK block funding across life sciences and other areas. As I said, I have just been in Glasgow, where we put one of our three innovation accelerators. That has been transformational, particularly in quantum, where we have set out our plans for the £2.5 billion quantum strategy. It is just not fair or true to say that the UK Government are not investing in the Glasgow cluster; we are, and it is transformational.