Autumn Statement 2022: A response from Estelle Blanks

17 November 2022

This week, there has been much activity in the region dissecting the current economic landscape, the impact on business and the environment. It is clear to me that it has never been more important to see focus from the top on helping the region build a greater share of the UK’s economic wealth to sustain green, quality opportunities for business and people. As such, I was eager to hear today’s statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt.

There was much to digest. Specifically, in relation to our work here at the Innovation SuperNetwork, priorities on levelling up, innovation and the green agenda resonated and I wanted to share with you my thoughts on how we maximise the potential additional investment and opportunities for dialogue with government. Without focussed intervention it will be harder for the region to attract investment. Whether this is Inward Investment around key clusters of excellence, or private investment into the very businesses we work so hard to support with their innovation ambitions.

Promising to match investment in ‘levelling up’ phase two with that seen in the first Levelling Up Fund, alongside capital commitments like Northern Powerhouse Rail, and a further devolution deal for the North East will go some way towards helping the region build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. With all of this, Innovation is critical to success, to achieving our net zero ambitions, and to global competitiveness.

I am particularly interested to hear more about the proposed move to centre investment zones around research knowledge and capacity in universities based in deprived areas to create clusters. The North East has five excellent universities and is already leading the way with national innovation centres for data, ageing and rural enterprise on the Helix site in Newcastle. We have a clear strategic economic plan, led by the North East LEP, that seeks to build on our sectoral strengths and we’re proud to be working closely with partners in these sectors (Digital, Energy, Advanced Manufacturing, Health & Life Sciences & the voluntary sector) to build clustering capacity and support for innovation growth. We are already seeing success with collaboration between industry and academia enabling innovation to drive sector growth, so I am keen to see how the North East can maximise new opportunities in this area.

Earlier this week I attended the Net Zero North East conference and came away with a stark understanding of the challenge facing all of us. To hear from Government that there will be a focus on accelerating the development of a more independent and green energy supply framework for the country, whilst aiming to reduce energy consumption by 15% in buildings and industry by 2030, is encouraging. But this is a challenge we all face and one we cannot be complacent about.

Our team are working in a number of ways, and across sectors, to take on the decarbonisation challenge. In partnership with the North East LEP and North of Tyne Combined Authority, we’re delivering a programme of activity tackling the very problem of decarbonisation of homes with Challenge North Tyne. Our Innovation Mangers based in the North East Energy Catalyst, Dynamo and the Academic Health Science Network are actively working with industry to help businesses from SMEs to the NHS take on the sustainability challenge. It is no mean feat, but what is clear to me given the cost of living crisis is driven by high energy costs, is that any steps we take need to be affordable, inclusive and easy to adopt. Only by bringing everyone along with us, will we see success.

The Chancellor’s suggestion that Government will speak with industry in advance of the next budget on what SMEs need to see around R&D support is an important conversation to have, and one we’d be very happy to be part of. That said, I welcome the Government commitment to Innovation in protecting R&D budgets and pledging an additional £20bn by 2025. I would, however, like to see more of this money making its way into the region. Around 47% of North East businesses consider themselves to be ‘innovation active’. Though higher than the national average, the region still sees less investment by industry in R&D. One reason for this is that regional businesses receive less innovation finance.

We are already working with key partners like Innovate UK and the British Business Bank to ensure we’re able to leverage innovation finance for the region’s businesses. The Regional Angel Investment Accelerator, which leverages investment in North SMEs matched with an Innovate UK Grant, is one example of this.  Later this month we will host the third Accelerating Investment & Innovation Summit where we bring together the region’s businesses with national and regional policy makers, investment funds and private investors. If we are to succeed as a region, we must come together and discuss the need for a more collaborative and inclusive approach to ensuring businesses can access the finance and support they need to innovate, grow and create jobs.

There is much work underway, and much more to be done to ensure the region is in a strong enough position to compete globally, and importantly, that the small and medium sized businesses that make up a significant part of our economy have the support and access to finance they need to fuel growth.

I look forward to continuing to work with our national and local partners to help achieve some of this.


Estelle Blanks
CEO, Innovation SuperNetwork

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