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The rise of UK innovation districts

Emerging as the destinations that can help UK cities create, scale up and attract fast-growing businesses, innovation districts are urban areas with networks of organisations such as universities, teaching hospitals and knowledge-intensive businesses. They are reshaping and regenerating parts of major UK cities creating new jobs, products and processes, enabling the opportunity to drive more productive and inclusive growth for the economy. 

The UK Innovation Districts Group, which was established in October 2017, represents six major innovation districts across the UK in Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and two in London. Together with consulting and engineering firm Arup, they published a report earlier this month which highlights a need for the Government to prioritise investment into these innovation district areas.

The detailed report focuses on how growth can be driven in major UK cities. It looks at the progress made by innovation districts so far including areas of success, barriers to overcome and opportunities for the future. Based on the findings, the report sets out five recommendations:

1. Government, cities and city regions should prioritise innovation districts to support the delivery of the Industrial Strategy.

2. Innovation districts should build on their existing work to help lead the way in increasing productivity through inclusive growth.

3. Innovation districts should work together more closely as a national network.

4. Cities, city regions and innovation districts should continue to secure capital investment in public spaces, physical and digital infrastructure and new buildings.

5. Government, LEPs and Combined Authorities, and cities should invest in developing the networks to support business growth in innovation districts.

The national Industrial Strategy published in 2017 sets out the Government’s policies for boosting productivity and growth. The strategy identifies five foundations for improved productivity, one of which is ideas – encouraging the UK to be the world’s most innovative economy. Therefore, this provides the opportunity to position innovation districts as flagship projects that can support the delivery of the Industrial Strategy, as outlined in the first recommendation of the report. 

Innovation districts are and can continue to play an important role in supporting economic growth which will create new and improved jobs. They can help cities replace the jobs that will become obsolete through automation and technological advances. There is also opportunity to build on university-industry collaboration to strengthen partnerships between employers and universities, helping to address higher level skills gaps. These collaborations would also help change recruitment practices, diversify talent pipelines, stimulate innovation and drive productivity through inclusive growth, as set out in the second recommendation of the report.

The report highlights the benefits of innovation districts and how they can provide a focus for increases in R&D, boost rates of commercialisation and innovation, as well as their ability to attract and create more fast growth, research-intensive, scale-up businesses, ultimately leading to thriving local economies and enabling cities to accelerate UK productivity. 

For further information about UK innovation districts and to read the full report click here.