Universities are key to Labour’s plan to ‘kickstart’ growth

Dr Peter O’Brien, YU Executive Director

The Labour Party has won a landslide in the General Election. Sir Keir Starmer, a University of Leeds graduate, becomes the country’s 58th Prime Minister, and Rachel Reeves, MP for Leeds West and Pudsey, is the first female Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yorkshire Universities (YU) congratulates the Labour Party, and we look forward to working with the new government. Our Strategy demonstrates how we provide a distinct convening and representative role for twelve diverse higher education institutions committed to supporting local and regional growth, underpinned by a sector worth £8 billion per annum to Yorkshire.

The immediate and structural challenges and priorities facing the new government, many of which are evident in Yorkshire, are significant, and multiple. These include low growth and productivity, poor health, the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis, underinvestment in infrastructure and creaking public services. However, Yorkshire and the region’s higher education sector are ready, if equipped with the right tools, to make significant contributions to the UK’s growth and prosperity

The Labour Manifesto set out a clear commitment to ‘kickstart’ economic growth, as one of the Party’s five missions, with a stated ambition to “secure the highest sustained growth in the G7 – with good jobs and productivity growth in every part of the country making everyone, not just a few, better off.” Underpinning this approach is said to be a shift towards more active, smarter state that works in partnership with business, trade unions, local leaders, and devolved governments.

A new national Industrial Strategy, with a sector and a regional focus, is planned. Local leaders will be encouraged to collaborate with employers, universities, colleges, and industry bodies to produce statutory long-term Local Growth Plans. YU has a notable track record of actively supporting local and regional economic development policy and strategy, and we stand ready to help the new government and regional partners hit the ground running.

Research and innovation are vital ingredients for growth, but publicly funded research and innovation needs to be mindful of the current financial pressures facing higher education. As Richard Jones states, in his latest blog, the UK’s public R&D system is uniquely dependent on the country’s universities. In remarks, reported in Research Professional, Bridget Phillipson, now the new Education Secretary, said, last month, that, “universities right across our country and our towns and cities are really important engines of growth and opportunity and jobs.” There are calls for the new government to commit to immediate financial stabilisation measures for the higher education sector. University leaders have suggested that the initial signs from the new government are good, with a positive rhetoric being employed by ministers about the role universities play in driving growth.

Labour has indicated that it will remove short-term funding cycles for key R&D institutions, and instead introduce ten-year budgets. The announcement that Sir Patrick Vallance, former Government Chief Scientific Adviser, has been appointed as Science Minister, will give fresh impetus to the value of government and the national and regional policymaking apparatus working hand in glove with the scientific and research communities. In our region, the Yorkshire and Humber Policy Engagement and Research Network (Y-PERN), and Yorkshire and Humber Policy Innovation Partnership (Y-PIP), provide ready-made infrastructures for leaders and institutions to utilise the very best research, data and evidence to help inform and co-design economic, social and environmental policies.

In its Manifesto, Labour was critical of the fact that the UK remained too centralised. Keir Starmer has signalled his strong commitment to work in partnership with the Metro Mayors (including three in Yorkshire), confirming at his first Downing Street press conference that he will meet the Metro Mayors this week to “discuss with them their part in delivering the growth that we need across the United Kingdom.” YU supports the government’s pre-election pledge to deepen devolution settlements for Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs), and extend devolution to other places.

On skills, a comprehensive new Post-16 National Skills Strategy, and a new body, Skills England, will work with MCAs and the Migration Advisory Committee to ensure that the ‘system’ matches the supply and demand of skilled labour in national and regional labour markets. YU’s work on supporting student and graduate employment and employability, more of which we will profile later this week, is a practical example of how local and regional universities, alongside employers and partner institutions, are effecting positive change in skills development, and supporting talent attraction and retention.

YU fully endorses the recent call for higher education institutions to build a strong regional presence. Our member institutions are key agents in local places, and in the drive for growth. Building effective relationships with local politicians, including Mayors, is critical, and this is what YU and our members have done. Ahead of this year’s Mayoral elections, we made a public call on those standing to be Mayors to work with YU to create a region that is the best place to “invest, live, work and learn”.

Furthermore, YU’s Memorandum of Understanding with Yorkshire and Humber Councils strategically connects Yorkshire’s higher education sector to the region’s fifteen local authorities and three MCAs. The MoU, which we have recently reviewed and refreshed, is an innovative place-based framework that can enable universities and policymakers in Yorkshire to contribute directly, in partnership, to the development of new national and regional industrial strategies. And, thus, help to maximise the university contribution, within Yorkshire, to the national mission to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth.

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