Devolution: Innovation and the North East
In the first of a series of articles looking at the areas potentially boosted by a North East devolution deal and mayoral leadership, Jeremy Middleton outlines the need to supercharge innovation.
If the North East is going to get richer we will need to embrace innovation in both the public and private sectors; we will need to come up with new ideas and new and better ways of doing things. We will need to try them out and get them to work, which needs clever people and some money, and we will need to market the heck out of them.
This is what people running companies and public services try to do all the time, that's how great companies like Sage plc, Utilitywise and Vertu etc have come to employ so many. That's how innovative councils are freeing up money by selling off public assets they don't need and investing in private infrastructure. However, the public policy challenge is how to create a step change to allow more businesses and public bodies to become more innovative.
We need to create a culture where new ideas, invention and technologies are encouraged and receive support. You may wonder what buzz words like “big data” and “the internet of things” mean, how a regular business can benefit, where the next lot of great ideas might come from. Who could help you develop them and pay for it all?
Well, some of the answers being developed by the North East LEP’s new director of innovation Hans Moller show us how. He has a very grand innovation strategy for the North East. Let me translate his strategy into something much simpler.
First, we need a big campaign to get our smartest people in business and the universities to talk to each other, share knowledge and come up with lots of really new, big ideas for our companies and public services, large and small. To do that, he proposes to build lots of networks of business people and academics in the North East, and to run high profile competitions; where real people win real money, where these smart people can come up with big ideas for big problems - with multimillion pound investments to make them happen as the reward.
Done well, this will be about much more than asking some pointy headed people to work together; it will challenge our entire business base to engage, challenge them and our academic community to deliver practical ideas. Done well, it could challenge the public sector to deliver much more with their reduced budgets. Done well, it could challenge the culture of our region to be more enterprising and more innovative. Done well, it could deliver a central plank of George Osborne's vision for his Northern Powerhouse - a northern region with a competitive advantage in science, advanced manufacturing and innovation.
Having ideas isn't enough of course. You also need the skills, the funding and the facilities to make them happen. So that's why there are also plans to deliver more science parks and research centres, where smart people can bounce off each other - in fact more per capita than anywhere else in the country.
We are about to get a new university technical college – UTC South Durham – focussed on advanced manufacturing and engineering at Newton Aycliffe. We have secured two specialist national centres for development of digital ideas and for satellite technology.
We have secured government funding to build a centre for innovation in formulation at NETPark; a low carbon energy centre at Newcastle Science City; an enterprise and innovation hub at Sunderland University; and a national centre for healthcare photonics.
So, there is a lot of infrastructure on the way, designed to bring specialists together, and to make sure there is the kit they need to do their stuff. There are also plans to make sure there will be the seed corn funding they need to test their ideas and that there is then the follow-on funding to turn good ideas into businesses and jobs.
And finally, we will need the young people, the training and the skills delivered through our schools, colleges and universities to support the ideas that emerge. That requires innovation and enterprise to be reflected in our education system in this region.
We have started a journey to become the most innovative region in the UK. We can be if we see this through. Yes, we need labs and buildings, we need skills and funding, but mainly we need big new ideas - both the ones we can come up with and ideas that people think up elsewhere in the country and abroad, but who will come here to get the help we can offer to make them happen.
So we will need to get the message out that we in the North East are truly, exceptionally committed to innovation and that's why the North East should pitch to be European Capital of Innovation 2016.
Let's make sure we get an edge over the rest of the country and are seen to be innovation leaders in the Northern Powerhouse. With the right leadership we can achieve this and that will mean more profits, more jobs and better pay. Wouldn't that be an innovation for the North East of England?
Jeremy Middleton is founder of Middleton Enterprises, a £50m investment company based on Tyneside. He is also a board member of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.
ISSUED ON BEHALF OF MIDDLETON ENTERPRISES
CONTACT: Paul White on 01325 363436
Notes to Editors:
Middleton Enterprises Ltd is a private investment company that has made a substantial contribution to the North East’s economy by investing in and providing business advice to entrepreneurial businesses.
During recent years, it has supported a number of North East businesses, generally from start-up, usually taking a minority stake and offering strategic advice to support growth.
Mr Middleton is a high-profile entrepreneur and philanthropist based in Newcastle. He started his career as a Brand Manager at Procter & Gamble before working for PriceWaterhouseCoopers as a Marketing Consultant. He co-founded HomeServe, now a FTSE 250 company which operates in the UK, the USA, France, Spain and Italy, and remains a shareholder with a seat on the Executive Committee. He is a director at North East based energy and water consultancy company Utilitywise PLC.
Mr Middleton and his family are active supporters of Maggie’s Centre and World Vision, an international charity which works to improve the lives of people in developing countries.
Mr Middleton has carried out a range of sponsored fundraising for a variety of charities which to date include the North Pole, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, The Haute Route, Mount McKinley, Mount Elbrus and a cycle ride from London to Paris.
Mr Middleton has been a Board Member of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) since 2011 and is Chairman of the North East LEP Investment Fund, which makes recommendations to the LEP Board for the £25m Growing Places Fund and the £30m Infrastructure Fund.
In 2012 Jeremy was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for Services to Politics and Charities.« Back