Industrial strategy and the role of place

13 June 2017


Reported by Paul Henry BBSRC-funded CSaP Policy Intern (April - June 2017)

Can the success of innovative high-tech businesses in Cambridge be replicated in other places across the UK?

Last month, CSaP hosted a roundtable discussion to explore the potential of the Cambridge technology cluster in the context of the UK’s Industrial Strategy.

The discussion, chaired by Lord Willetts, brought together policy professionals from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the Department of Communities and Local Government, Innovate UK, the Royal Society and local government, with academic experts from Cambridge, Sheffield and Manchester, to discuss what practical steps could be taken to strengthen links between Cambridge and the wider economy.

The purpose of the workshop was to inform the work of the Industrial Strategy Commission. Chaired by Dame Kate Barker, the Commission is an independent inquiry into the development of a new, long-term industrial strategy for the UK, led by Policy@Manchester and the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI).

What characterises the success of the Cambridge Cluster? What opportunities are there for the industrial strategy to build on the success of the Cambridge cluster?

The success of the Cambridge cluster is in part due to a favourable city deal and a considerable portion of UK research funding, which has created an environment where entrepreneurs can take risks to explore new business models and sectors.

Whilst this had been very successful for Cambridge, it seemed unlikely that the same conditions could be easily replicated in other UK cities. For an industrial strategy to work across the nation we would need to balance the diverse development needs of each region and city of the UK. Improving transport links between Cambridge and the wider East of England region could help to extend the benefits of the Cambridge cluster.

What does the Cambridge experience have to teach us about how place-based and sector-based approaches intersect?

The conversation highlighted the tensions between further developing places that have a track record of success, and helping those which are falling behind to flourish in the same way.

The UK has an opportunity to build on its strong reputation for cutting edge research and innovation. However, to do this would require policies which not just promote places, but also sectors and challenges, through flexible, reactive governance.