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Achieving our potential through the application of digital technologies in the advanced manufacturing sector

James Davies, North East LEP Innovation Programme Manager, looks ahead to the North East Science and Innovation Audit which will examine the opportunities for the advanced manufacturing and digital sectors to link up, and invites companies to have their say……

The North East has a long, proud history of making things and particularly making complex things to be sold across the globe, but successful sectors never stay still. The type of goods and the way that we make these have always changed as new tastes drive design changes and new tools enable us to meet this demand at a lower price and/or higher quality.

The integration of digital technologies into our devices may have been around a little while now, but its potential is only just beginning to be fully recognised and unleashed. Bringing together digital technologies and other products will continue to stimulate radical changes to the products that people want and the way we make things.

Being in position to adapt to this change will not just happen on its own. We need to be able to innovate and change in the way we make things for us to make the most of this potential.

It is this thinking which lies behind our current project, our Science and Innovation Audit on the Application of Digital Technologies. This is the process through which we are looking at the ways in which we can use digital technologies to improve our already impressive manufacturing sectors’ competitiveness for the long-term.

Working across the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and Tees Valley Combined Authority areas, we are interested in understanding where these links are already working well and those where we need to do more to make sure local businesses are aware of the opportunities and have the right support to take advantage of these opportunities. Reflecting our particular local strengths we are currently focused on three manufacturing sectors: automotive, chemicals and pharmaceuticals as well as the digital strengths of the area.

With strong researchers based in our universities, experienced businesses and local networks bringing these partners together, the North East is a natural home to put this into action but other parts of the globe already have a lead on us.

Through the audit, we want to move beyond developing just a simple summary of what we are good at and where we need to work harder – we want to start the discussion to achieve our potential and understand what links, projects and support we need to bring together for long-term strengths.

This needs to be developed together as no one individual partner has all the answers. This is why we are inviting you to take part in a business survey. We want to hear from you whether you are from one of our digital or manufacturing companies so we can understand better what is already here and what linkages are already in place. We know there are great examples of this already working and we want to hear about it but we also want to know what is missing or what hasn’t worked so well or where you are not yet working with the other sectors.

You can find the surveys here: for Digital Companies and for  Manufacturing Companies

I’d encourage you to take part. It will only take 20 minutes and will inform us in understanding where the partnership of companies, industry bodies, research institutions and the public sector can work together and individually to support local companies to be competitive over the longer-term. The survey will be completely anonymous and we will not attribute any to any individual or organisation and will only be reported in collated form. We will be publishing information on the outcomes of the audit later in the year we will be organising an event in September to support this. If you would like to know more about the report or the future event please do contact:

Rebecca Furness, Innovation Programme Support Officer

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Workshop facilitator opportunity

The North East LEP is looking to appoint a facilitator to support three workshops as part of the Applied Digital Technologies Science and Innovation Audit which is being led by a consortium covering the North East LEP and Tees Valley Combined Authority areas.

The workshops are part of our second stage of work and will produce a coherent, ambitious programme of activities to make the most of these opportunities.

Further information can be found here. Anyone interested in applying should provide the information requested in the specification to James Davies by midday on the 29 May 2018.

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Responding to Powerhouse 2050: The North’s Routemap for Productivity

Richard Baker, Head of Strategy and Policy at the North East LEP, comments on the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Powerhouse 2050, report.

On Friday, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) published their report Powerhouse 2050: The North’s Routemap for Productivity, which sets out proposals for driving forward four areas of Northern Industrial excellence.

The report has been produced following a summer of discussion and engagement with economic partners from across the north and the proposals aim to show how, with government funding and business support, the North of England can make a step change in economic performance to rival the best countries and regions in the world.

The NPP highlight Advanced Manufacturing & Materials, Energy, Digital Technology and Health Innovation as the areas of the economy in which the North of England is seen to have the opportunity to achieve the greatest global competitive advantage. They set out an ambitious vision to create an additional 850,000 jobs by 2050 and contribute an extra £97bn to the UK economy, and call for collaboration between the Government, Northern Leaders and the business community to transform the North and truly unlock its potential.

Long term opportunity

The proposals are, of course, strongly welcomed by the North East LEP. We share with LEPs and other partners across the North of England a determination to rebalance the UK economy, ensuring that we deliver not just more, but better opportunities for our residents and our businesses and strengthen our role in the UK. As we move towards a UK Industrial Strategy and contemplate the challenges and opportunities created by Brexit this is a ‘must do’ for the UK as a whole.

We welcome the recognition of the many assets we have here in the North East and the synergies between the areas of opportunity identified in the report and the proposals we set out in the North East Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) refreshed earlier this year.

And the proposed collaborative approach mirrors that which we believe to be central to the successful delivery of the SEP – as we work to foster strong partnerships between the business community and leaders from National and Local government and education to deliver More and Better jobs. We are aiming to strengthen our work with other areas across the North and other parts of the UK where this collaboration can deliver more by pooling our strengths and our voice.

Encouragement to do more

We should take encouragement from some of the central findings of the report. The NPP draw from a significant piece of independent economic analysis which was undertaken for Transport for the North last year to underpin their proposals.

The analysis looked at which parts of the Northern economy had the most potential to drive long term growth and improved productivity. It modeled the impact which could be delivered from the kind of determined and focused long term investment set out in the report. Looking to the long term, we should note that of the 11 LEP areas of the North of England, it is the North East which is projected to deliver the highest rate of gross value added and productivity growth in the second quarter of the century (at 2.9% GVA and 2.2% GVA per head per annum compared with 2.5% and 1.8% respectively for the whole of the North).

This data should prompt us to renew our determination to press on with the delivery of the North East SEP, to ensure that our areas of opportunity can deliver this long term growth for our region, as well as driving our own more immediate targets of 100,000 more jobs between 2014 and 2024, with 70% of them being ‘better’ jobs.

This work is already underway

The proposals identified in Powerhouse 2050 draw from and complement the work being delivered through the SEP by partners across the North East which aims to maximize the impact of our four key areas of opportunity as well as our key enabling service sectors and investment in our business environment and key infrastructure:

Our digital technological capabilities, which boast specialisms in data analytics, virtual reality, smart data and cyber security.
World leading businesses in offshore and subsea technology working in a number of sectors including oil and gas and offshore renewables and a range of new energy technologies coming on stream which can increase our contribution to the UK’s energy economy.

Strengths in globally focused advanced manufacturing with strong clusters in automotive and medicines. As the NPP recognise, there is significant growth potential available through inward investment, supply chain development and exports in these sectors and new opportunities to embed a focus on innovation and higher skills.

New innovation centres in healthcare and life-sciences, including national centres of excellence in ageing, smart data formulation and healthcare photonics are now coming on stream and will create opportunities to take advantage of world class science, innovative small businesses and a research focused health care system.

Opportunities for significant growth in ‘better’ jobs in areas, including financial and professional services and education and through logistics.

Opportunities to do more

Powerhouse 2050: The North’s Routemap for Productivity clearly recognises the North East’s potential, and supports new proposals for investment here in the North East including the recently awarded National Innovation Centre for Data, supporting the recently announced 5G testbed programme and new North East proposals to focus on a new national Centre for Smart Medicine and a Centre for Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (CESAM). Alongside key investments such as the Metro replacement programme, critical to regional labour market mobility, and a range of other key infrastructure developments across the region, there is a strong pipeline in place on which to build our future.

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Why a Smart Specialisation strategy is delivering more and better jobs for the North East

If I were to ask a group of undergraduates what career they’d like to go into, chances are they’d start by choosing a job involving the things they’re good at. It’s a very sensible approach; playing to one’s strengths.

In a way we’ve adopted a similar approach here at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. Our Smart Specialisation strategy for the region is focused on sectors we believe we’re the best at. By focusing on our strengths we will not only provide strong economic growth, but also deliver more and better jobs for the North East – our primary goal.

In December 2013 the North East LEP published its Smart Specialisation report, which identified the four key areas of industry that would make up our smart specialisation areas. They are:

− Passenger Vehicle Manufacturing
− Subsea and Offshore Technology
− Life Sciences and Healthcare
− Creative, Digital, Software and Technology Based Services

Why these particular industries? Because we believe they provide the greatest potential for economic growth in the North East, both now and in the future.

One of the greatest advantages to identifying smart spec areas is the ability to focus investment. Without a strategic vision, funding can be spread too thinly across a range of industries, which ultimately waters down its impact. As we bid for more European and national funding it’s important we can ensure it has a real, measurable impact. Focusing investment into our growth areas is one of the ways we can ensure that.

Another benefit is increased inward investment. If we want to see more businesses locate here and invest in our region its important we showcase the things we’re good at. Our defined smart spec areas make it clear to potential investors that we have a strategic economic plan for the North East, one that will see our economy grow.

We’re currently in the process of segmenting our smart spec areas even more. These subsectors really shine a light on the specific areas we excel at. For example, life sciences cover a whole gamut of specialties. By breaking these down into subsectors we can really focus our efforts on key strength areas.

Ultimately what we want to achieve is more and better jobs for the North East. Here at the North East LEP we believe our Smart Specialisation strategy can help us do that. It has the support of the business community; it gives our region a clear proposition and its building confidence in our economy.

By Hans Möller, Innovation Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership

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North East Growth Hub contract opportunity

The North East LEP is seeking to appoint a company to develop and deliver a Manufacturing Advisory Programme (MAP) as part of the North East Growth Hub.

The MAP will provide a targeted one-to-one diagnostic, signposting and action planning service to manufacturing businesses that have:

• Growth potential (hold the aspiration to significantly scale their business – upwards of 20% employee or turnover growth per annum).

• Fall within one of the North East’s areas of ‘smart specialisation‘.

We are seeking a partner who can leverage and build on the North East LEP’s investment to expand the impact of the MAP.

The quotation document, along with a detailed service specification of our requirements and accompanying documents can be accessed via the North East Procurement Organisation (NEPO) portal here.

Please note, companies must be registered on the NEPO portal in order to access the documentation. Once registration has been accepted, applicants will then need to return to the opportunity on the portal, login and register interest in this contract in order to access the documentation.

Submissions must be returned via the NEPO portal before 12:00 noon on Friday 15 April 2016.

Please note that submissions will not be accepted in either hard copy or e-mail. All completed submissions must be submitted electronically via the NEPO e-tender system portal.

For further information please contact Virginia Ainsley, Procurement Category Officer – [email protected].

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How to deliver North East economic growth through Life Sciences innovation

Dr Peter Simpson, N8 Research Partnership and Life Sciences lead on the North East LEP Innovation Board, and Geoff Davison, Bionow

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) Innovation Board members have been working on a new strategy to grow the North East’s Health and Life Sciences sector.

The North East LEP has identified Life Sciences as an important strategic area of economic activity in the region, and so the LEP Innovation Board’s experts are keen to develop an industry strategy and action plan to foster growth of the Health and Life Sciences sector in the North East. This represents a great opportunity to generate economic returns from more and better jobs if it is embraced by key partners.

The North East is already a great place to do Life Sciences, and a great place to live and work. But we feel there is so much more potential to unlock. Over recent months, we have sought your views on a range of possible priorities that we had scoped to help achieve this. For those of you who filled in our Life Sciences survey, a huge thank you – and congratulations to Julie Wright, Commercial Manager
at Data Trial Limited; winner of our Kindle Fire prize!

This feedback has been incredibly helpful in sharpening the vision and directing the prioritisation of actions. From analysing your feedback, the Life Sciences working group has agreed three key areas for prioritised LEP support and additional opportunities.

Areas we have identified as possible priority opportunities include:

• Fully leveraging nationally important assets and centres – within the region and beyond – to help local companies.
• Enhancing specialist funding opportunities – to ensure that innovative regional companies have access to the funding and support they need to thrive here
• Facilitating strong linkages to academia and other external innovation sources
o Creating the conditions to build a cluster economy in Health in Development & Ageing
o Enhanced Health Grand Challenges Programme

In order to support these priorities, support and grow the business base the team have also been working through ways for the LEP to ensure:
• A long term plan for provision of specialist health and life sciences company accommodation
• Sector-specific specialist skills sector plans
• Effective strategic leadership & coordination for the region
• Promoting the life sciences sector nationally and internationally
• Growth of our distinctive assets and niches
• Improving the Scientific, Technical and Leadership Skills base

The Life Sciences working group and the North East LEP Innovation Board are doing this work as volunteers – because our passion is for the growing the economy of the region together.

So thank you again for your input, and we look forward to sharing with you an update on the LEP response to our proposals shortly.

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FabLab brings huge opportunities for North East

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) is encouraging local businesses to get behind the latest groundbreaking new venture to arrive in the region – FabLab Sunderland.

Part of a global network that started at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in America, FabLab Sunderland is a place for businesses, entrepreneurs, schools and members of the public to make and create almost anything using the technology, skills and materials available onsite.

Part business incubator, part education space, FabLab Sunderland promotes engineering, design, electronics and software development from its site at the University of Sunderland. Its focus on innovation and improving skills fits with the North East LEP’s strategic economic plan for the region that emphasises the importance of smart specialisation areas and developing a workforce quipped with the right skills for these jobs.

Part-funded through the North East Growth Deal, which is managed and delivered by the North East LEP, FabLab Sunderland aims to support and develop existing and new businesses in the LEP area, as well as inspire the next generation of engineers, developers and programmers.

Tony Canning, FabLab Manager at the University of Sunderland said: “FabLabs offer real opportunity to a wide range of people; from schools, the public and businesses, to access equipment they may not otherwise have available.

“As the first in the North East region we are keen to engage with the STEAM agenda – particularly for schools for whom we can coordinate workshops to reinforce and enhance learning. We are also keen to support businesses as a part of University of Sunderland’s Enterprise and Innovation directorate.”

Helen Golightly, Chief Operating Office at the North East LEP said: “FabLab Sunderland can play a vital role in supporting the skills agenda in the region.

“Not only is it a fantastic resource for the business community, it is already looking at ways to engage with schools through curriculum-based learning and by promoting STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) subjects, its providing the skills we need to create more and better jobs for the North East.”

Hans Möller, Innovation Director at the North East LEP said: “A key part of our strategic economic plan for the North East is built around innovation; something FabLab Sunderland excels at. We have identified smart specialisation areas and I believe all of these industries – automotive, creative and digital, life sciences and subsea – could benefit from engaging with FabLab Sunderland and supporting its work with industry and the education sector.”

FabLab Sunderland is one of 350 FabLabs across the world. They play a vital role in supporting innovation and invention; helping many new products come to market. One of the most successful is Dutch-based 3D printing firm, Ultimaker (www.ultimaker.com). Developed and built inside a FabLab, Ultimaker now sells its 3D printing products and software across the world.

The FabLab concept combines a workspace, community maker-space and learning zone – encouraging people from all walks of life to collaborate, exchange ideas and make things using the specialist equipment on site.

FabLab Sunderland aims to offer easy-access support to SMEs, connecting regional businesses with a global community of learners, educators, technologists, researchers, makers and innovators; creating new innovative jobs for people across the region.

FabLab Sunderland was included in the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s additional proposed projects, when it announced the expanded Growth Deal with Government in January 2015. The Growth Deal will see an extra £40.6m invested in the North East economy between 2016 and 2021. This is in addition to the £289.3m of funding committed by the Government last year.

For more information about FabLab Sunderland, visit www.fablabsunderland.org

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In conversation with Innovation Board Member, Dr Colin Herron from electric vehicle consultancy Zero Carbon Futures

The future is electric and the North East is in pole position to take the lead

The widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EV) is something that the North East has been gearing up to for the last six years and it is recognised as one of the North East LEP’s smart spec areas. Since 2013, the manufacture of the all-electric Nissan LEAF has been happening here in Sunderland and many companies, including ourselves, have been working on projects, research and product development surrounding the emergence of this technology.

Change is certainly coming. Latest figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that electric car sales in the UK are rising at a dramatic rate. There are now on average around 2,400 electric cars registered each month which represents just over 1% of the total new car market.

However, I would argue that we’re nowhere near there yet. The driving range of the current electric vehicles on the market is currently good but not good enough. I have driven 20,000 miles in my Nissan LEAF so I can speak from experience when I say that we need more powerful batteries and faster charging. What I really want is to be able to drive 150 miles on one charge and for a charge to take around 10 minutes. That will be the game changer for electric vehicle sales.

It was therefore a significant announcement made by Nissan at the start of this year that they would be investing in the production of the future generation of electric vehicle batteries at its Sunderland plant. This commitment signals Nissan’s vision for zero-emission motoring and is also great news for the region – safeguarding 300 highly-skilled jobs in manufacturing, maintenance and engineering.

It’s also good for the electric vehicle industry in the region. At the same time, Nissan also announced a new project, supported by the UK’s Advanced Propulsion Centre, which will team the company with partners including Zero Carbon Futures, Hyperdrive Innovation and Newcastle University to work on battery development projects. This project will keep help our expertise to grow.

Of course with more powerful batteries comes the need for increased charging capacity. Charge points are going to need to get better and faster. So this announcement links with another coup for the region. In January, it was announced that the North East Combined Authority has been awarded £1.5 million from the Government’s ‘Go Ultra Low’ programme. The funding will help the region develop the next generation of charging facilities in the shape of new electric vehicle filling stations. The stations, which will be situated on the Science Central development in Newcastle and on the A19 on the outskirts of Sunderland, will echo a conventional fuel station in image incorporating 6 – 8 rapid charge points and perhaps even café facilities making filling up with electricity an acceptable norm. This filling station model will be a first for the UK and it will be something that other cities will be watching with interest.

Having worked in the automotive sector for the last 40 years, there’s never been a more exciting time than now. It’s great that the North East has proven itself to be a forerunner in electric vehicles and these announcements will make sure that we stay ahead of the game when it comes to future developments.

Dr Colin Herron is a member of the North East LEP Innovation Board and managing director of electric vehicle consultancy Zero Carbon Futures