Partnership is not just a word

The Technology Strategy Board’s ability to deliver on its commitments is very dependent on its relationships and partnerships with the Research Councils and the regions. Both Lord Sainsbury’s 2007 report ‘The Race to the Top’ and the DIUS Innovation Nation report made strong reference to this – “The Technology Strategy Board should be given a new leadership role, with more formal relationships with the RDAs, Government Departments and Research Councils”.

These arrangements have been put in place  - with the RDAs through a Strategic Advisory Group, and with the Research Councils through a Strategic Partnership Group reporting to our own Executive Management Team and the Research Council Executive Group. Last week gave me an opportunity to take stock of these partnerships, with important meetings of both of groups which reviewed progress, identified emerging issues and provided focus for future action plans.

Firstly, the Research Councils. Over the current Comprehensive Spending Review period the Research Councils have committed £120m for collaborative work with the Technology Strategy Board. Separate discussions with each of the councils have identified areas of priority activity, and there are already really good examples of alignment. For example joint working with EPSRC, particularly in areas such as materials and high value manufacturing, has already produced over £60m of aligned funding projects. A big step forward has been made around the involvement of social sciences in support of these areas through ESRC.

In these difficult economic times it is good to see a focus on high value manufacturing through a recognition of the importance of ‘mixed and balanced’ economy. The other side of this mix and balance, however, is to ensure that we also work closely together in supporting and shaping the future of the retail, financial services and creative industries sectors. Good progress has also been made with AHRC, for example in helping us work in the creative industries domain for the first time.  

One area that requires more focus, working with the BBSRC the MRC, is health and life sciences. Good progress is being made with BBSRC on the important issue of food security - in particular nitrogen cycles, crop management and food processing - with requirement plans being worked up between ourselves and the BBSRC together with academia and industry. It will also be good to further develop the strong links between the BBSRC’s Technology Clubs and the KTNs.

Similarly links with the MRC are being developed but now need to be strengthened. There are some strong opportunities around two of our Innovation Platforms: on Detection and Identification of Infectious Agents and Assisted Living. Significant new opportunities for joint working exist in stem cell and regenerative medicines as well as the area of stratified medicines which is transforming pharmaceutical business.

We have been working with NERC in two new areas - practical implications for the built environment regarding changing environmental conditions and environmental risk management with the Insurance industry.

  • The Research Councils Energy Programme (led by EPSRC) which addresses international issues of climate change and security of energy supply
  • Living with environmental change (led by NERC) a major interdisciplinary research and policy partnership to tackle environmental change and the societal challenges it poses
  • Global uncertainties: security for all in a changing world which will address four inter-related global threats to security – crime, terrorism, environmental stress and global poverty
  • Life long health and wellbeing (led by MRC) which will provide substantial longer term funding targeting themes of healthy ageing and factors that may affect health and wellbeing in later life
  • Nanoscience through Engineering to Application (led by EPSRC) which will focus the UK research effort through a series of Grand Challenges in areas of societal importance
  • Digital Economy (led by EPSRC) which will concentrate on areas where the management and presentation of information can have maximum transformational impact: healthcare, transport and the creative industries. We are directly involved in many of these initiatives.

We are working closely with the Research Councils Energy Programme in the development of an integrated programme for Energy Generation and Supply.

On the Living with Environmental Change programme, we joined the LWEC Partners Board towards the end of 2008 and are keen to help shape and strengthen the objectives in two important areas: the engagement of business and the potential for exploitation of the research to benefit the UK economy. We are developing a Design for Climate Change initiative - a collaboration between our Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform and LWEC - and we will also be closely involved in establishing an LWEC Knowledge Exchange working group.

On the Nanoscience programme, we are working with the team and expect to be involved in Stage 2 of the Nano Grand Challenges.The Digital Economy (DE) strand has good synergy with many of our priorities, such as network security, intelligent transport systems and services, ICT, high value services and creative Industries. The recent DE sandpit on “Design in the Digital World” involved two of our team as director and mentor. A priority for us over the next year is Digital Britain and we will work closely with the DE programme on this.

The second key partnership arrangement is with the English regional development agencies and the devolved administrations, through the Strategic Advisory Group which we have established. The regions are represented by the Chairs of the respective Science and Industry Councils and the Heads of Innovation for the devolved administrations. The Innovation Nation report sets an objective for the Technology Strategy Board and RDAs to align their strategies and funding to achieve a £180 million aligned commitment over the three year CSR period. The RDAs have produced regional prospectuses of current and planned investments which have been used to shape this exercise and good progress has been made in understanding areas of strong and weak alignment. The devolved administrations are actively collaborating and also jointly investing in projects.

There is strong alignment in areas such as aerospace and automotive and opportunities to strengthen alignment in areas such as life sciences and creative industries. There is also a good opportunity to further extend alignment prospectuses to include the work of the Research Councils.

A good example of our work with the regions is with the Northern Way (North West RDA, One North East and Yorkshire Forward), which has identified four chosen areas of collaboration - Printable Electronics, Offshore Wind, Energy and BBC. It is interesting that the selection was based on areas where real added value could come from collaborating, rather than simply the top priority areas of each individual region. Perhaps this offers some lessons for other regions looking to work together. It is also interesting to share best practice, such as the supply chain links established by Yorkshire Forward through networks like YF’s Virtual Enterprise Network.

The regions are a major delivery arm of innovation, deploying national agendas locally and feeding local needs up into national agendas. A concern for the Technology Strategy Board is the pressure being put on the RDA Budgets. Recent notes from the Chief Executives of SEEDA and SWRDA have spelt out to stakeholders the impact of the redirection of funding to pay for national business support and housing initiatives alongside the reduced income from assets. The good news is that the regions are planning for a sustainable recovery and longer-term economic prosperity, supporting business through the recession and setting the foundations for a low-carbon economy. The more difficult news is that the financial pressures means that they will not be able to invest in all the projects and ideas that we have been developing in anticipation of RDA funding. At a time when our existing funding competitions are already significantly over-subscribed it is important that there is a joined up approach across Government to this issue. The ability to deploy national programmes through the regions is an important part of the Technology Strategy Board toolkit.

Partnership is an important part of our strategy to Connect and Catalyse. Good progress has been made with both the Research Councils and the regions. Now more than ever is a time for aligning the translational aspects of the Research Councils and the innovation aspects of the regions with the Technology Strategy Board – working in partnership together to drive innovation and build the successful businesses of tomorrow here in the UK.


Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:35

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