A note from Nick Sturge, Engine Shed Director: Local Industrial Strategy

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The Bristol & Bath city region has been chosen by BEIS (The Department for Business Enterprise and Industrial Strategy) as one of the regions to co-create a local version of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, i.e. a “Local Industrial Strategy” that lays out the local approach to supporting economic growth, in the context of the Government’s identified grand challenges. Here is WECA’s original response to the Industrial Strategy and I encourage you to opt in to be part of the development of that strategy here.
Last week I sat on a panel with the CBI, the University of Bath, Bristol Rovers FC, and Bristol Water plc at the West of England Economic Growth Conference. There was some good discussion, and it’s a shame that there were no local policy makers there – that I could see – to hear what some of the broader business community thought.
Our interest area, as readers will know, is in stimulating sustainable and inclusive economic growth, so we focus our efforts around inclusion, growth, and innovation – not surprisingly. I thought it might be useful to share what role I think the Local Industrial Strategy can play.
I think that the important premise here is that we need to understand what our strengths are, what the opportunities are, and then the Local Industrial Strategy needs to maximise the exploitation of the latter, bearing in mind the former.
Of course, it’s a four dimensional problem. We have some very strong capabilities in many disciplines, including in the technology and creative talent base (think of those as a horizontal capability); then we have some strong current vertical sectors, such as aerospace, financial services, food, animation and so on.

We then have an entrepreneurial zeal and infrastructure that supports innovation, and feeds the talent base, such as our excellent universities, incubators, networks, liveable city etc. Businesses emerge from that talent base, creating new economic activity. That new activity then attracts new talent (from the existing talent base and from elsewhere in the world) enriching a localised talent capability. In the semiconductor industry, you might call that localised doping, and it inevitably changes over time – and often quite rapidly.

So, the opportunities that we want to be able to address are as likely to be created by our rich talent base and infrastructure in real time, almost randomly, so it’s a moving feast. And much of the power comes from organic growth rather than a strategy. So the tension is how to create a strategy that enables inclusive growth without suppressing or being a distraction, to organic, entrepreneurial activity.

My view then, is that we need the local industrial strategy to identify the areas that are worth investing in for the long term based on our capabilities, and then to invest in the early stage – nurturing the research, startup/spinout, and talent-creation activity.

We (the various players in the ecosystem) can then continue to work on the scale up agenda holistically, and then we’ll expect to input to the implementation of the Local Industrial Strategy to help build the hard and soft infrastructure that enables businesses to scale up in whatever sectors emerge as strong, based on the emergent economic activity.

We also want to create an environment where it’s easier for start-ups, scale ups, and established SMEs to connect with corporates, and for both corporates and SMEs to connect with our universities.

The University of Bath’s new Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS), alongside the University of Bristol’s National Composite Centre at our Science Park, and the new SETsquared Partnership’s Scale Up programme, which focuses on facilitating higher education (HE )industry collaborative research projects, are important parts of that.

One of the exciting things that we’re exploring is how we could create a common brokerage, so that businesses (or social enterprises – as that is where a chunk of our economic growth will come from) are able to access the knowledge and talent of the university sector neutrally, preferably through one door, and not being hampered by multiple doors at multiple different universities. This is an aspiration of mine: a common, multi-university brokerage for knowledge exchange, between SMEs, corporates and HE. 

My hope is that the Local Industrial Strategy can encourage and enable that collaboration, and a culture of co-opetition as it’s that which will lead to sustainable growth. In my humble opinion.

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