North West businesses missing out on millions in Government funding

A report commissioned by the North West Business Leadership Team and Innovate UK has found that ambitious businesses in the North West have requested millions of pounds less support to get their innovative ideas off the ground.

The report highlights that the North West is one of the strongest parts of the country for business research and development (R&D), and has some of the most productive businesses in sectors including chemicals, pharmaceutics and scientific R&D.

At the same time, innovative North West firms requested smaller funding awards on average from Innovate UK, the government organisation that provides funding and support for business innovation.

Over the past decade, most regions of England have secured levels of Innovate UK funding in-line with the region’s share of the UK business population, or more. Had the North West secured funding on par with the region’s share of UK businesses, then over the past decade, the region would have secured an additional £86 million in public funding, which additional private investment into the innovation projects would have amplified further. The reasons why North West businesses requested lower funding awards will require further study.

There are big opportunities for businesses to apply for support following the launch of the Government’s modern industrial strategy, which has seen the largest increase in Government R&D funding for 40 years. The Government wants the UK to be the most innovative economy in the world and investment in R&D to reach 2.4% of GDP by 2027.  With Brexit on the horizon, the time is right to establish the UK at the forefront of innovation.

Chair for the NWBLT Science Taskforce David Pinder explains, “The North West is fortunate to be the home of past and present scientific excellence. We are a region that takes science, and the social and economic potential of scientific advancement seriously. The North West already has considerable strengths and I am hopeful that this report will spur on our region’s innovative ambitions further and bring to light the funding opportunities available that will enable even more innovation to take place in our region.”

Juergen Maier, NWBLT Chair points out that “Solving the productivity problem is at the core of the NWBLT’s ambitions to raise our region’s overall prosperity. The relationship between productivity and innovation, shown in this report, drives home the message that innovation is a crucial ingredient of productivity. The North West has pockets of highly productive innovative clusters; however, they are far and few between. This report shows where barriers to innovation need to be removed and where ambitions need to be properly harnessed to ensure the North West can maximise it’s potential to again become a highly innovative and highly productive region and leader of the fourth industrial revolution.”

Carol Treasure, co-founder and CEO of XCellR8 remarks that, “Innovate UK has funded two of our research projects. Without the funding, we could not have recruited the staff or dedicated the lab capacity to progress our research into developing new predictive models for skin safety testing in the cosmetics industry.  We developed a cell-based screen for acute toxicity which helps companies to obtain human-relevant results while complying with the European ban on animal testing for cosmetics.  Our current project aims to optimise the predictive capacity of an in vitro screen for mild cosmetic and personal care products, which will allow clients to establish skin irritation potential more accurately, prior to starting expensive human trials. Innovate UK’s support has ensured we can respond to client demand for more predictive safety tests and continue to be at the forefront of innovation in 100% animal-free testing.”

Rick Holland, regional manager from Innovate UK, said, “Innovate UK will work with leading business groups and representative bodies across the region to understand why North West firms have requested smaller amounts of funding to support their innovations. We encourage businesses that have ambitious, step-change, innovations to come forward and apply for the support to help them get their ideas off the ground.”

The report examines how, by focusing on its well-recognised industrial and research strengths, the region can take advantage of the Government’s industrial strategy, ensure that a greater share of the Government’s innovation investment comes into the North West, and become an even stronger region for innovation excellence and productivity.

The report was undertaken by Manchester based economic consultants, Hatch Regeneris.