Growing the Life Science sector to rebalance Britain's economy
The financial crisis resulting from the crash of the last decade’s boom has led to a consensus that we need to re-balance the economy away from an over-dependence on credit-fuelled City finance, public spending, retail and housing to a sustainable economy driven by real businesses making and selling products and services the world needs. This is a huge opportunity for my home county of Norfolk. We have the science, industry and can-do spirit to lead a local economic revival. The Norwich Research Park, with its world class innovation in agricultural, medical and environmental technology, is central to that potential.
The headlines about the possible sale of Lotus to an overseas company provide a timely reminder of the world-class excellence in Norfolk. The challenge that confronts us is to make sure that Norfolk continues to retain and invest in the increasingly internationally recognised clusters of skills and expertise found in greater Norwich.
The Norwich Research Park is home to approximately 3,000 research scientists, the world-class John Innes Centre and the Institute for Food Research, and, alongside the Norwich and Norfolk University Research hospital, we can claim to be Europe’s largest multi-disciplinary life sciences ‘cluster’.
As the Government Adviser on Life Sciences, I am delighted with the recent announcement on how the Norwich Research Park plans to spend the £26 million provided by the Government. The life sciences, covering food, energy and medicine are the fastest-growing markets across the world, and in Norwich, where all three of these fields converge.
It is these areas of research that are developing technologies, such as bio-fuels for Lotus’ sports cars and exploring the potential for ‘nutraceuticals’, next generation of crops which can prevent disease. Linking these work-streams more closely with the existing research in Cambridge provides a context for a hugely powerful potential world-class corridor of innovation from Norwich to Cambridge focused on developing and selling the things that people across the rapidly developing globe need.
Yet it is our infrastructure which is holding us back: just imagine what we might be able to achieve were we to have a more effective link between Norwich and Cambridge’s science parks – and with the fast-growing small company investment community along the line, this would be a compelling cluster of investment and research. We shouldn’t undersell our potential: East Anglia has the opportunity to grasp this opportunity and lead the re-balancing of the UK economy.
After a fifteen year career in the financing of new technology companies before my election to Parliament in 2010, I look on the chance which we now have in Norfolk with eager interest and anticipation: that is the reason why my primary focus has been campaigning for improved broadband, rail links, ‘dualling’ of Norfolk’s A11, and support for a vibrant rural economy based on high-growth businesses. Our future prosperity hangs on getting this right: we need an economic recovery which provides sustainable jobs, vibrant communities and preserves our heritage.
The real opportunity afforded by clusters is long-established: but I believe we have yet to experience the real benefits which linking up these hubs in our region can bring. We can revitalise our villages and market towns across Norfolk, relieve pressure on already-congested roads, cut the time we spend commuting, whilst still preserving the essence and character of our communities. A modern, high-technology economy might yet make us the engine of global multi-disciplinary life-science research.