Powerhouse Perspective: Dr Annette Bramley

Powerhouse Perspective: Dr Annette Bramley



In the latest instalment of Insider’s Q&A series on the Northern Powerhouse, Dr Annette Bramley of the N8 Research Partnership discusses what the initiative means to her, the need for greater funding support for the North’s universities, and the importance of a highly skilled workforce.

Name: Dr Annette Bramley
Position: Director
Company: N8 Research Partnership

What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?
I love the energy and the potential in the name ‘the Northern Powerhouse’. It speaks to the wealth of assets that we have in the region; our people, our businesses and our universities. It also reflects the drive we have in the North of England to grow the economy and improve people’s quality of life with guidance and advocacy from local civic leadership.

The research-intensive universities of the N8 Research Partnership have a combined annual research spend of £1.3bn and together create more than 120,000 jobs. Working together, they create a Northern research and development powerhouse that is an engine to drive innovation and growth, to help deliver benefits to communities in the North of England and beyond.

Eight years have passed since the phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’ was first coined. Has enough happened since then?
Some good progress has been made, and yet there will always be more to do.

Research and innovation are drivers of productivity, with every £1 of public money returning around £7 of net benefits to the economy. However, the way the public R&D investment is distributed is highly skewed towards the Greater South East of England. This reinforces imbalances and inequalities in the UK economy and is an opportunity cost for a government that is seeking to ‘level up’, improve UK productivity and reach stated R&D investment targets.

We would like to see the excellent research-intensive universities of the N8, and the businesses of the Northern Powerhouse, pick up a greater share of the national R&D funding. This creates jobs and economic opportunity in the region and helps support the growth of clusters of companies supported by their supply chain and service providers. Clusters are a key contributor to productivity, and investing in research and innovation in the Northern Powerhouse would be a direct route to strengthen and grow the clusters that we have, from Offshore Wind to Digital Health.

How is the appointment of metro mayors starting to help the initiative?
Local civic leadership is crucial for bringing together key organisations, to harness the passion that people have for the places they live and work.

Investment in research and innovation can also be championed by our metro mayors – like the announcement of the £2.4m High Growth Innovation Fund in Liverpool by Steve Rotherham earlier this year, and the exciting InnovationGM in Manchester, which will receive around £30million funding for an Innovation Accelerator from the UK government.  

Aligning Research and Innovation projects and programmes to regional recovery and growth plans is essential to maximise the return on government investment. You cannot do this ‘top-down’ from central government. To ensure public and private investment lands together in the right places, we need a new arrangement backed by and designed with businesses, investors, R&D organisations, and local and national Government.

What needs to be done to help the North recover from the Covid-19 outbreak?
The Covid-19 pandemic has created or exacerbated a number of challenges and inequalities facing children in the North of England. The loss of learning that children in the North experienced over the course of the pandemic will cost an estimated £24.6bn in lost wages over their lifetime earnings. This is a huge drag on the economy of the region. There are strong associations between child health and economic performance: areas with better child health have higher productivity.

Our Child of the North report sets out a number of recommendations for achieving a fairer future for children of the North after Covid-19. Investing in early years education, acting to reduce food poverty in the region and initiatives to increase access to safe green spaces are some of the recommendations from experts in our universities which would make a real difference to children and families of the region now and in the future.

What is the single main issue you would like to see dominate the Northern Powerhouse agenda?
Driving economic growth across the region through low carbon innovations coming out of our incredible universities and businesses is the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for the region. To do that we need to invest in skills at all levels and in lifelong learning opportunities.

Access to a combination of ground-breaking innovations and a highly skilled workforce will make the region full of attractive places to start or build a business and will enable the region and the UK to meet our Net Zero obligations.   

Is there enough collaboration between towns and cities across the North?
Collaboration between places which have their own, complementary specialisations, sharing knowledge is absolutely key for strong innovation ecosystems. Unfortunately, these knowledge sharing networks are less dense across the North than in other parts of the country.

In the Northern Powerhouse, we need a greater emphasis on place and developing regional Research and Innovation ecosystems, which engage partners in the public and private sectors, as well as local citizens and communities. Regional university networks, like the N8 Research Partnership have a key role to play in ensuring the benefits of public and private investment into research and innovation are felt by citizens right across their regions, particularly in more ‘left behind’ places.

How would the success of the Northern Powerhouse agenda benefit your business?
The success of the Northern Powerhouse agenda is the success of the region and improved prosperity and quality of life for our population. The universities of the N8 Research Partnership have a key role to play in making that happen.

We will benefit from closer, deeper ties to innovative businesses and improved knowledge flows. These, in turn, will generate new topics for research and innovation and new learning. It will create a vibrant innovation ecosystem that complements the one that already exists in the Greater South East.

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