It’s time to re-balance the country by recognising our global excellence

The race for the next Prime Minister is moving towards the final straight and the major questions and policy issues are inevitably focusing on how the contenders will handle Brexit and ensure London’s prominence on the global stage.

Wednesday, 12th June 2019, 8:42 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th July 2019, 12:21 pm
Cabinet secretary David Lidington chats to apprentices

Missing from the contest, and all too often absent from political debate, is how the next Prime Minister will ensure that the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse is not just maintained but accelerated.

When one of the most senior Cabinet Ministers, David Lidington MP, toured the University of Sheffield’s AMRC last month, on a visit to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the launch

of the Northern Powerhouse, he said that close collaboration between business and the university was the key to successful innovation. “Whoever is the next PM” Lidington promised, “I will be arguing that this success must be supported.”

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are focusing on their membership’s priorities, making promises to unify the country and deliver Brexit. But there is very little evidence that they, or their supporters, are thinking outside of a London bubble or beyond a Brexit agenda.

The hope is that MPs like Lidington will push a more expansive agenda in Parliament. An agenda that recognises how the Sheffield City Region and the North are driving improvements in productivity, shifting R&D spend closer to the ambitious goal of 2.4 per cent of GDP, and helping to rebalance our economy and our politics.

Take engineering; which is key to rebuilding our economy. Last month, the University of Sheffield overtook Imperial College London to become the number one in the UK for research income and investment. Our university attracted £124 million for engineering research, from organisations across the region, the UK and the world, who recognised the excellence of Sheffield’s fundamental and translational research.

The products of our exceptional research capabilities are sought after far beyond the seven hills of Sheffield. They have driven game-changing improvements in productivity, created high value manufacturing jobs and are inspiring a new generation of digitally savvy engineers who will lead the next industrial revolution. For all the uncertainty about Brexit, the next PM can be certain that investing in research in Sheffield and the North will have real impact, not just on the regional economy but across the world: a truly global Britain.

Global companies are trying to get ahead of this breaking wave and have been putting down roots in Sheffield. Both McLaren and Boeing have opened new production plants next to the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre’s (AMRC) world-class facilities and R&D talent. McLaren’s Composites Technology Centre represents a significant reshoring of the firm’s iconic supercars’ carbon tubs to the North of England. Our apprentices and degree apprentices are ensuring that the demand for talent from such major players is matched by the brightest and best from the region and across the UK.

The Northern Powerhouse was thriving long before the former Chancellor George Osborne put a Victorian sounding name to it – the AMRC was opened in 2001 for one. Government may still be struggling to grasp that this is a national asset with global reach, but high value manufacturers from around the world have long recognised its strengths and are strides ahead when it comes to investing outside London. In fact, the AMRC’s research talents were key to helping Rolls-Royce de-risk a £100m investment in the North East, while the AMRC’S partnership with Airbus in Wales is critical to securing the future of wing production and 6,000 highly skilled jobs in the region.

The next PM needs to put real energy into the Northern Powerhouse, and embrace it as the beating heart of UK innovation and industry. He needs to back high value manufacturers who want to move operations and production to the North, he needs to celebrate the achievements of our students, apprentices, universities and researchers, and he needs to fund the infrastructure and transport links to create a more connected UK.

Despite the doom and gloom, the next PM need not see the job as a poisoned chalice. Quite the opposite. He has a real opportunity to break free of the London bubble and make good the pledge to create a much more global, outward facing country, where the great Northern universities have a vital role to play in driving the next industrial and social revolution.

by University of Sheffield President and Vice Chancellor Professor Koen Lamberts and

Professor Keith Ridgway, founder and Executive Dean of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC)