Medilink NOE News Summer 2020 Summer 2020 - Page 5

WESTMINSTER LOOK NORTH... COVID-19 AND BEYOND We have rarely seen so much coverage of the important role that the Lifescience community plays in the health and the protection of lives across the nation than during the present Covid-19 pandemic, whether this be in the supply of PPE, ventilators, antigen/antibody testing or vaccine development. With the significant manufacturing capability in the North and our burgeoning number of innovative companies driving health transformation, we have many examples of where businesses have responded to the challenges of Covid-19 and we have featured a number of few of these in this edition of the Medilink News. We are pleased that the UK Government has committed itself to a regional economy ‘levelling up’ agenda and welcome the recently published UK Research & Development Roadmap which acknowledges the gap between public investment in R&D in the North and South and the need for place / asset based, regional investment. We also welcome the recent announcement of a £600m investment in the Northern rail network, with inadequate transport systems being a major factor in limiting GVA levels in the North. However, one thing that became apparent in the Covid-19 crisis was that our Industrial Strategy needs to place major emphasis on investing in manufacturing resilience - mapping the UK supply networks, whether this be for vaccines, testing or key medical devices, and ensuring that the requisite investment is made in the UK Lifescience industry (manufacturing and the supporting ecosystem) to ensure that the UK is self-sufficient if faced with future crises. The theme of this Newlsetter, ‘Westminster Look North – Covid-19 and beyond’, reflects the views expressed by a wide cross section of our membership base - the North has played a major role in mitigating the worst effects of Covid-19 in the UK, and through its ‘placed based’ assets and innovative skills base, it seeks to play its part in the Covid-19 recovery and in revitalising the economy post Brexit. UPSKILLING FOR GROWTH: ADULT EDUCATION BUDGETS It has been recognised for some time that one of the major reasons behind the poor productivity in the North has been the lack of appropriate skills, particularly NVQ4+. The reasons behind this are multifaceted and can’t be distilled down into one particular cause. There has been significant investment in skills over the last 30 years on a national scale, but this has come at the expense of a continuous and stable skills strategy. Governments of different colours have tweaked and changed different skills and education programmes whether academic or vocational, leaving education establishments and employers disorientated and creating a labour pool that at times is not fit for purpose. The tendency has been to push the academic higher education route, which has resulted in a lack of practical skills across the economy. Sheffield City Region (SCR) Mayoral Combined Authority is working closely with the Department for Education (DfE) to prepare for the devolution of the Adult Education Budget (AEB). This local control of skills expenditure will help the SCR to create local plans that could make a tangible difference to the economic environment. This AEB devolution has already been rolled out in London, Manchester, Liverpool and the Tees Valley. If the Combined Authority meets the DfE’s readiness conditions, the plan is for it to be ready to administer the AEB from August 2021. This could be a powerful catalyst for improvements in regional productivity, but as with everything, much depends on how successfully these new powers are used. MONEY, MONEY, MONEY - FUNDING IN THE NORTH The Northern Powerhouses Fund and the North East Fund with combined funding from the UK Government (via the British Business Bank), LEPS, European Development Funds and European Structural Development Funds, were intended to help correct the imbalance of investment between the North of South and they have made progress against this goal, in providing much needed investment for entrepreneurs /innovative start-up companies and in attracting Fund Managers and the associated ecosystem to the North. It is essential that these Funds are maintained and expanded upon, with early discussions required on where the ERDF component of the funding will come from, post Brexit. Of course investment funding takes many forms including public finance and this is another area where we see an imbalance of funds between the North and the South, and we welcome the UK Government’s announcement in December that it was looking to rewrite Treasury rules to permit greater investment in the North of England - with the current public spending system effectively penalising regions outside the South East. MIND THE GAP: PRODUCTIVITY It has been widely reported that The North’s GVA is lower than any other region in England (excluding London), which means there is huge untapped potential for UK wide growth if the North could ‘level up’ to at least the same levels of productivity found elsewhere in the country. There are two key factors behind this: a skills deficit and low levels of business density. Low proportions of the Northern population have higher levels of qualifications, defined as NVQ4+. In some areas, like Greater Manchester, there is the twin problem of few people having higher level qualifications and a high number of people having no qualifications at all. Higher skills correlate with a more productive workforce, so for the North to improve productivity it needs to attract and retain more skilled talent – both vocational and academic. The second issue, low levels of business density, is particularly prevalent in the North East and Tees Valley. This could be the consequence of a multitude of factors, including fewer start-ups, a reliance on a small number of employers, a reliance on the public sector or general lack of connectivity within a region – there is no definitive single issue. A pan-Northern approach is needed to DEVOLVING NORTH Devolution to the North has been less uniform than wider national devolution within the UK, with regional differences between Manchester’s deal, city-region arrangements, metro-mayors and the proposals for regional assemblies. These have been attempts to address what is widely seen as a disparity between political attention given to the North vs the South. For some areas, like Manchester, the devolution of powers has made a significant difference to the Life Sciences sector. The Combined Authority has created an International Centre for Healthy Ageing for example, which will drive testing and commercialisation of health innovations and make a tangible difference to the Health Technology sector. Lots of regions within the North are unique in terms of their sectoral cluster - the Alderley Park pharmaceutical cluster in Cheshire is such an example. Where these exist, targeted support on a regional and local level could make a real difference. Powersspecific devolution is usually accompanied by a huge degree of influence and convening powers that can help garner investment and drive local initiatives. For our sector, the devolving of decision making on health is especially significant and helps to drive industry- NHS collaborations that improve both the health and wealth of the nation – especially in the extraordinary circumstances, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. unlock productivity gains across the region; one that tackles skills shortages and inter-regional connectivity. There are excellent and productive clusters within the North, but the benefits these densely populated high-skill clusters enjoy need to be propagated more widely so their ground-breaking solutions can be recognised and applied at a larger scale, in aspects such as public health. You can read how our members from the North helped tackle Covid-19 on a regional and national level across this edition of Medilink News. 8 9