A West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) innovation infrastructure is a discussion point in the devolution plans, and with over 20 science parks and innovation centres in the Midlands, I would suggest the capital infrastructure is already in place.
All that is needed is proper engagement between those leading the WMCA plans and a regional grouping of the science parks. This would readily promote innovation coal-face values and shared experiences, without any significant capital expenditure. Importantly, it would also help ensure innovation support is seen as assisting new products and services into the marketplace, not just conceptual good ideas.
Science parks – working together – should be able to multiply the effects of targeted interventions to promote knowledge economy growth. As part of a Combined Authority play I would suggest there is a real need to see the local linkages re-established between the science parks and innovation centres, and those charged with leading regional economic development. We can all hope for new investment in glass and steel on our science parks, but actually what is more important is what goes on in the buildings, and that requires funding as well.
In order to avoid unnecessary duplication of infrastructure and services, there needs to be encouragement for regional clusters.
The UK science parks are looked on as examples of best practice in innovation support by numerous overseas Governments; at a time when they are investing heavily. The UK, and the WMCA should be seen to be proud of the truly innovative communities that are clustered on, in and around our science parks. However, from what I have seen recently our overseas counterparts seem more attuned to the successes of our science parks than UK natives.
So let’s call for funding for harnessing connections and increasing collaboration across existing innovation centres to enhance the pre-existing ‘Midlands Innovation Engine’, and not create another unnecessary new edifice.