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Street looks to steer regional research and innovation

Street looks to steer regional research and innovation

🕔28.Jun 2017

Somebody, somewhere decided it was a research and innovation theme day in the West Midlands yesterday, writes Kevin Johnson

It started with a keynote address from the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, at Venturefest WM. The Mayor drew on the findings of the recent Science and Innovation Audit.

The Mayor told hundreds of innovators and investors at the NEC that science and innovation could be a driving force behind the continuing economic renaissance of the West Midlands, with the support of entrepreneurs and business leaders.

The Audit (SIA) was funded by the region’s three local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) in the West Midlands working with Birmingham Science City and builds on a Midlands Engine wide audit.

The SIA identifies key market strengths in:

  • Next Generation Transport
  • Sustainable Construction; Energy Storage & Systems
  • Technologies for Better Health

and “cross-cutting enabling competencies” in

  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Digital Technology & Data
  • and Systems Integration.

Whilst highlighting the strengths of eight universities and a range of other research assets, the report pays particular attention to four key innovation system ‘anchors’: the universities of Birmingham and Warwick (including Warwick Manufacturing Group); the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry; and Jaguar Land Rover.

Together, these organisations characterise and embody the excellence in science and the commercialisation of knowledge in our area, and are responsible for much of our nationally and internationally significant science and innovation activity…

Yet again, this report identifies poor productivity, compared to the national average, as a major issue.

The WMCA recently concluded a consultation period on its Productivity and Skills Commission. No word yet on how many responses were received, what they said or what happens next.

The SIA says that the region’s “innovation ecosystem” is generally working well, but identifies a series of challenges which may stand in the way of its development.

  • The low skills levels in the region is the greatest weakness in the ecosystem
  • Our ability to secure funding from the public and private sectors could be improved, including both R&D resources and funds for process scale up or capital investment required to move from R&D to increased productivity
  • We need to continue to drive higher levels of knowledge exchange between the universities and business and across technology areas/sectors
  • Access to ERDF monies has played an important role in helping us to build our innovation ecosystem. The loss of this source of funding could be very detrimental if no alternative is made available
  • We must continue to develop our physical infrastructure to keep up, and anticipate the need for grow-on space as we encourage the growth and development of our innovative businesses
  • Maintaining a geographic spread of assets and networks is also important to make it easy for start-ups to find supportive locations and for easy engagement of SMEs with science and innovation bases.

Mayor Street said:

The SIA is really important piece of work as it sets out the market strengths the West Midlands enjoys in key sectors where we have a competitive advantage in the future.

For example, these include some of the advanced engineering industries such as driverless and battery vehicle manufacture and design. This is where world-class innovation organisations like the Warwick Manufacturing Group and Manufacturing Technology Centre and tier one producers like Jaguar Land Rover have established a leadership role, meaning we are currently in a race with Germany and the United States to be the global leader in this sector.

It also includes technologies for health, where our diverse, young population gives us a unique advantage in terms of clinical testing, meaning the West Midlands can be at the front of research that can save lives.

And digital and data as an enabling competence– which I believe is the glue that holds all of our sectors together. The Digital and Tech sector has been responsible for almost a third of all inward investments into the West Midlands since 2010 and employs some 70,000 people.

Perhaps most importantly, the report gives us the evidence we need to stimulate and steer action and investment by the West Midlands Combined Authority and partners. With the right interventions, innovation can substantially contribute to both productivity gains and the effective reform of public services.

Driverless cars and electric vehicles caught the attention of Andy Street when campaigning for the mayoralty, whilst last week’s Queen’s Speech included a Bill on Automated and Electric Vehicles. So, yesterday’s Transport for the Future conference at iCentrum, Innovation Birmingham organised by the Midlands Connected & Autonomous Vehicle Cluster (MCAV) was timely.

Dudley-based Westfield Sports Cars, best-known for manufacturing fully factory-built and kit cars for open-top sports cars enthusiasts, launched its latest vehicle, the Westfield GTM. It is the UK’s first 100% British-designed and manufactured, low volume M1 autonomous vehicle according to Westfield.

The Westfield GTM is available via a “mobile phone on-demand call system, with on board environment changes available as in-travel options”. “Collision avoidance technology” enables GTMs to travel anywhere at any time, night or day, in all reasonable weather conditions – without the need for any predetermined routes.

The new vehicle builds on the success of the Westfield driverless POD, it’s first fully autonomous vehicle, which was one of the first to hit the commercial market worldwide. It has transported over 3.5m passengers around Heathrow Airport since it was launched just two years ago.

Chair of the event; Director, Institute for Design & Economic Acceleration (IDEA) at Birmingham City University and recent mayoral candidate, Beverley Nielsen said:

I’m so impressed by Birmingham and the West Midlands position leading this developing sector which will shortly have such a radical impact on the way we live.

I’m hearing from those involved that the barriers to progress with these projects is not so much the technologies involved – the engineers are telling me these are well advanced in development terms and pretty much ready to go – but in the legalities, in the health & safety trialling and testing, and in the political will to see this happen.

MCAV was set up by sector leaders including Westfield Sports Cars, Transport for West Midlands, Conigital, PWC and Cambridge Wireless to support and introduce existing and new businesses entering the Connected Autonomous Vehicles market. KPMG research indicates that the CAV market has the potential to add £51 billion per year to the UK economy by 2030, create 320,000 new jobs and prevent 25,000 accidents saving 2,500 lives per year.

MCAV also aims to create a technology corridor between Cambridge and Birmingham to develop a platform for members to stimulate collaborative innovation through high-profile networking events and Special Interest Groups (“SIGs”) facilitating new networks, building consortia for tenders and recruiting highly skilled individuals.

Main pic: Warwick Manufacturing Group’s International Manufacturing Centre

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