Our comment: WM Science & Innovation Audit – What makes sense for climate, makes sense for business

Confirmation from Trump that the US will withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, the result of the election on 8 June, and Brexit negotiations all leave many questions around future global action on climate change and UK environmental policy.

However, the publication of the West Midlands Science and Innovation Audit (SIA) on 21 June leaves no doubt that the low carbon economy is one of our strengths and will continue to grow. The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) with its three partner Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) worked together with our partners Birmingham Science City to produce the supplementary West Midlands SIA with SWM sitting on the steering group and providing contributory data.

The SIA provides a detailed picture of our strengths and opportunities in science and innovation, and considers the ecosystem factors that LEPs and the WMCA, along with innovation partners including SWM, must address to enable us to realise the potential of our local economy.

Market strengths

SWM is encouraged that three of the four identified market strengths, areas in which there is existing excellence and major growth opportunities, are related to sustainability and low carbon:

  1. Next Generation Transport: significant opportunities for growth are provided by the next generation of rail technology, in part through links to HS2, and connections with the Midlands motorsport cluster centred in and around Silverstone.
  2. Sustainable construction: grounded in the significant construction industry across the area, and the R&D and commercial development by industry of energy efficient and lower carbon building technologies.
  3. Energy Storage and Systems: grounded in scientific excellence across our knowledge base, we have significant potential in the development and commercial application of a range of technologies in energy storage including batteries and hydrogen storage.

It is exciting to see the growth and transformation of these sectors which were identified as low carbon growth areas in our Low Carbon Investment Prospectus published in 2012.

Productivity

Despite the many strengths of the West Midlands economy, the report highlights that productivity is below the national average level. Leveraging our science and innovation excellence to lead to investment in new products and processes and drive-up productivity is a core focus of the SIA. This will be a critical area of focus for the WMCA with Andy Street working to get businesses, local authorities and other partners to work together to increase productivity.

Networks and collaboration

The report highlights the importance of networks to fostering and develop collaborative behaviours and networking as being core to successful innovation. SWM coordinate nine local networks, some interdisciplinary and some focussing on specific sustainability issues. They are well established and include over 850 individuals from the West Midlands and beyond. Our cross-sector membership includes leading universities, private sector companies focussing on low carbon innovation. We will continue to work with our networks and members to establish collaborations to push on low carbon innovation. We also work with Climate-KIC to develop their support for innovative low carbon clusters across the UK.

Policy

The policy and regulatory framework is a key underpinning factor in supporting innovative low carbon activity. We continue to support the WMCA in the development of relevant policies. We provide evidence and independent monitoring including benchmarking of LEPs and local authorities, review and monitoring of the Strategic Economic Plan, and support from our board as a ‘critical friend’.

Funding

Access to ERDF funding has played an essential role in helping to build our innovation ecosystem. The loss of this source of funding could be very detrimental if no alternative is made available. SWM continue to support partners such as BEIS, local LEPs, the WMCA and Energy Systems Catapult to develop support for future low carbon innovation.

Technology demonstration

The Consortium for the Demonstration of Intelligent Systems (CDIS) is an innovative and ambitious initiative to accelerate the exploitation of new products, services, and processes through the demonstration of intelligent systems principles and technologies. Initially, the focus will be across three areas: mobility, health and energy. SWM are working collaboratively with other partners and supporting Birmingham Science City with the development of CDIS.

The publication of the SIA is exciting and should provide renewed focus for all partners within the West Midlands showing that what works for climate, works for business. The findings and recommended way forward will make a positive contribution to achievement of our 2020 Vision and the three priorities of decreased harmful emissions, increased economic productivity and reduced health inequality.

The report is essential reading and available here.