31st January, 2020 was a momentous date in our nation’s history as the UK’s membership of the European Union officially came to an end. We’ve now officially entered the transition phase where we can sign our own trade deals and begin to negotiate our new relationship with the rest of the world.
Whatever our personal feelings on the relative merits of this state of affairs, we can all agree that such moments of significant change throw up both opportunity and challenge. It’s time to focus on the former. So, what can we learn from elsewhere?
The Cluster Effect
Odense in Denmark has completely transformed its prospects since the 1980s. Just like many regions of the UK, Odense was a post-industrial area in need of new sources of employment. Yet clever collaboration between industry, city government and the local university has completely reversed its fortunes.
Dubbed the “Silicon Valley for Robotics”, it is home to over 130 robotics companies, an international drone testing facility and is the European hotspot for medicinal cannabis research. Not bad for a city of just 180,000 inhabitants.
It’s unlikely we’ll ever rival the Danes or the Japanese in the field of robotics. However, I see no good reason why we can’t build up our own alternative areas of technological expertise.
After all, look closely and you’ll see the UK can claim many of the same conditions that were seen in Odense in the 1980s. For example, our public officials are just as keen to promote a more global outlook. Like them we also have many regions reeling from the loss of their major employer who are in need of new job creation. In Wales alone we have Newport which recently lost its steel plant and Bridgend which is set to lose its Ford Engine plant in September of this year.
When considering the assets available to the UK we should also remember we are home to over 10% of the world’s top universities, according to the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings. In particular the Oxford-Cambridge-London “Golden Triangle” of research universities creates huge potential for knowledge transfer.
Finally, we already have nascent geographic clusters containing leaders in their respective fields. Think cybersecurity in Cheltenham, offshore wind in Scotland or digital health in Birmingham to give just a few examples.
With the right smart collaboration between industry, academia and government all these and more could grow to become self-perpetuating engines of growth. The next steps are clear and just one questions remains. As a collective group, which growth areas of technology do we wish to prioritise and support?
By Rob H.