Tom Forth and Richard Jones’ recent report, ‘The Missing £4 Billion’, published by the innovation specialists, Nesta, presents in-depth analysis and a series of thought-provoking, yet practical, proposals on how to rebalance the current uneven geography of research and development (R&D) spending within the UK. The report is timely and has gained much attention, not least for the case the authors make for government to devolve 25 per cent of the planned uplift in R&D funding to nations, cities and regions. A stark statistic contained in the report is that large parts of the UK, including Yorkshire, are missing out on £4 billion a year in public R&D funding. Add to that private investment, and the same regions are unable to access a further £8 billion per annum. Not insignificant sums when you consider the total investment that is needed to ‘level up’ the nations and regions.
Last week, I was in Montréal speaking at an international conference on the subject of regional innovation. The event coincided with half a million people – many of them aged under 16, including the activist, Greta Thunberg – taking to the streets of the city to call for action to address the climate emergency.
Whilst in Canada, I heard of some ground-breaking studies and policies on local and regional research and innovation processes. Coupled with how science and expertise is shaping public opinion on a theme as substantive as climate change, my visit to Québec re-emphasised to me the importance we should attach to universities building and sustaining effective relationships with local communities and the wider public, as well as business and governments.