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What can businesses learn from UK cities already reviving their centres and surrounding regions?

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The Humber is being reimagined as a hub for renewables

The Humber has been a centre of maritime industry for centuries, but the decline of shipbuilding industry left the city as one of the UK’s poorest. Despite its economic problems, the Humber is being reimagined as a hub for renewables, boosting opportunities across the region. 

Early investment in Hull’s renewables sector came from the world’s largest manufacturer of offshore wind turbine blades, Siemens Gamesa, which invested heavily in training a local workforce and has created 1,200 jobs in the region since opening its offshore blade factory in 2016. The company is currently investing a further £186 million to expand its turbine blade manufacturing site.

The cluster effect on innovation and skills has attracted other leading players in the sector, including GRI Renewable Industries, which has announced plans for a £78 million turbine manufacturing plant in the region. Meanwhile, the UK government has recognised Hull’s vital role in the energy transition and is investing £160 million in the region’s renewable energy industry.

“The Humber offers one of the best examples of successful UK clusters,” says Chris Sood-Nicholls, Managing Director of Regional Development at Lloyds Bank. “Siemens has been very clear on what it is doing, and when a business makes a commitment, other people can plan on the back of it. Small businesses can adapt their production to meet demands, while the university and other higher-education institutions can look at what they can do from a skills perspective.”

The benefits of the private sector and educational institutions working together

The University of Hull, with its Energy and Environment Institute and Centre for Sustainable Energy Technologies, has become a centre of renewable energy research.

“Our Energy and Environment Institute is the pivot for a lot of this work. Four years ago, there were fewer than five people at the institute, and today there are 170,” says Professor Susan Lea, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hull.

She adds “The younger generation are very aware of the challenges that society is facing, so they are concerned to see a university not just talking about this stuff but acting upon it. It’s also attractive at the postgraduate level. We have the Aura Innovation Centre [AIC], which is centred around innovation in renewable energy, and, within that, we have a doctoral training centre.”

Led by the University of Hull, the AIC is a model example of private- and public-sector partnerships working to drive economic renewal and innovation.

“Where clusters have worked well, there has always been a long-term bridge between the private sector and academia, which creates perfect conditions for high-value sectors, a skilled workforce and high business investment,” says Ahmed Goga, the CBI’s Director of Regional Policy.

Universities are playing a role in reviving cities

Andrew Connors, Lloyds Bank’s Head of Public Sector and Higher Education, says Hull is a prime example of how universities are playing a bigger role in economic innovation and renewal. “Universities are a world-class sector for the UK. They have shown great agility through the pandemic and continued to be really successful in driving demand for international students. But some universities, like Hull, are also looking to drive a realignment of their missions and strategy to address regional social and economic demands,” he says.

Lloyds Bank Business Barometer: confidence in the UK regions - Top 3 for April 2022. West Midlands, Yorkshire, The Humber and London.

The Lloyds Bank Business Barometer surveys businesses across the UK to gain insights into business confidence and employment trends. The April 2022 report found confidence to be 42% in Yorkshire and the Humber, ranking it second of the 12 UK regions in terms of business confidence.

Hull has a way to go before it can be said to have regained its former glory, but as it carves out a new identity, its already an example of the potential of renewal through innovative technology and new skills.

Bristol has emerged as a key centre of innovation in digital technology

Benefitting from excellent local universities and years of investment in infrastructure, Bristol has emerged as a key centre of innovation in digital technology, with some observers dubbing the city and its surrounding region the “Silicon Gorge.” The tech sector in the South West employs more than 68,000 people, and more than half of these jobs are in Bristol, where the sector is rapidly expanding.

According to the government’s Digital Economy Council, there was a 50% rise in the number of tech job opportunities in Bristol between 2020 and 2021.

Silicon Gorge, Bristol.

Thanks to its growing workforce of skilled digital professionals and the healthy talent pipeline provided by local higher-education establishments, the city is attracting significant investment. Last year, Bristol’s tech firms attracted £100 million of venture capital funding, according to the Digital Economy Council, with investors attracted by cross-sectoral opportunities in tech and engineering. 

As businesses flock to Bristol, so do their workers; the city’s population has grown by a staggering 10% in the past decade, with an average age of 32 (PDF, 7.7MB), compared to the national average of 40 in England and Wales and 36 in London. Bristol’s dynamic, innovative population helps the region contribute £40 billion to the UK economy, while its thriving business ecosystem creates the ideal environment for companies small and large to maximise growth.

A UK technology hub thanks to the strength of its universities

The University of Bristol launched the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2016, while the University of the West of England is home to its own Enterprise Zone that includes a community hub for startups.

The University of Bristol is also home to the Bristol Quantum Information Institute, one of two UK Research and Innovation-funded Centres for Doctoral Training in quantum engineering. Local government investment of £35 million enabled a pilot of the Quantum Technologies Innovation Centre to open at the university last year, and by 2025, it is expected to operate as the world’s first open-access innovation centre for quantum technologies. The centre is projected to generate £232 million of added value to the local economy in its first decade and will create an estimated 360 jobs.

In addition, Bristol’s Quantum Technology Enterprise Centre is a pre-incubation programme that has created more than 30 new companies and helped them raise £60 million in funding. The centre is responsible for one-third of active UK quantum engineering startups.

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Collaboration between private and public sector is vital to drive regional economies

A range of stakeholders in Bristol has come together on initiatives to boost tech entrepreneurialism in the city. One example is Engine Shed, a collaboration between the University of Bristol, the Bristol City Council and the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) that is a hub for startups, academics, small businesses and larger corporations, and aims to create a network of innovation for the city.

It’s vital that these success stories remain local. SMEs and entrepreneurial businesses that may grow into giants need to feel that they can keep growing without having to move elsewhere. “They need an incentive not to leave, and that means an environment of innovation and skills that comes from larger businesses in the same sector,” Sood-Nicholls explains. 

Bristol is home to numerous companies that have grown from small beginnings to become major businesses, among them three tech unicorns (private companies with a value estimated at $1 billion—roughly equivalent to £800 million). The government predicts this figure will double to six in the next few years.

These businesses together form the region’s impressive tech ecosystem, which has not only earned it the Silicon Gorge moniker but will help ensure that Bristol thrives as a destination for innovation, employment and investment for decades to come.

Keys to a thriving future

Hull and Bristol are just two examples of the UK’s thriving cities, and they illustrate key themes and lessons that can guide other regions and their businesses.

Partnerships between academia and business can create centres of excellence in emerging technology that are mutually beneficial, stimulating innovation and skills in educational institutions and creating employment and opportunities for those skills. Meanwhile, partnerships between large businesses and SMEs are also mutually supportive, creating local supply chains and a wider and more varied market for skilled employees.

Investment is key—and the opportunities for business to play a role are many. Companies seeking to invest should ensure that their financing is attuned to a region’s potential, taking into account its established and emerging innovation hubs. Working closely with the public sector and other private-sector partners is also crucial in driving entrepreneurship and boosting the future of the UK’s most promising cities.

Bristol harbour

This content was paid for and produced by Lloyds Bank in partnership with the Commercial Team at Bloomberg Media.

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