The Innovation strand of the Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD) is being developed in close alignment with the regional and national policy context.
The BRCD investment in the Innovation projects will enable and complement the region’s access to other funding mechanisms aligned to these documents including the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
Published in January 2017, Economy 2030 commits to the ambition for Northern Ireland to ‘be a globally competitive economy that works for everyone’. To do so, it sets out five priority areas. These are:
- Accelerating Innovation and Research
- Enhancing Education, Skills, and Employability
- Driving Inclusive, Sustainable Growth
- Succeeding in Global Markets.
- Building the best economic infrastructure
The strategy sets an objective of increasing expenditure on research and development to £1.5 billion by 2030.
While the Strategy recognises that Northern Ireland is making progress in terms of its innovation activity, it states that ‘further significant improvement is needed if we are to close the gap with top performing economies and to realise our ambition of establishing Northern Ireland as an innovation powerhouse on a global stage’.
The Strategy identifies Northern Ireland’s strong and emerging sectors: Advanced Manufacturing, Materials and Engineering, Life and Health Sciences, Agri-Food, and Constructions and Materials Handling.
The Northern Ireland Innovation Strategy is based on a vision for Northern Ireland to be recognised as an Innovation Hub: one of the UK’s leading high-growth, knowledge-based regions. The Strategy’s priority areas are Cultural Change, Knowledge Generation, Knowledge Exchange and Knowledge Exploitation. The Strategy suggests that Northern Ireland has potential to become one of the most innovative regions in the UK. However, if NI is to achieve this, the Strategy highlights that more companies need to be proactively engaging in innovation, collaboration, and exporting, and working towards becoming more globally competitive.
The Draft Programme for Government (PfG) commits to improving well-being for all in Northern Ireland. It aims to achieve this by tackling disadvantage and by driving economic growth. The PfG is based on 14 strategic outcomes and 42 associated indicators. Among these are ambitions for Northern Ireland to strive towards, including: “we are an innovative, creative society, where people can fulfil their potential”. In order to meet these, the PfG suggests that our companies need to be realising the creativity of our economy, and proactively seeking out opportunities to engage in research and development.
The PfG identifies that continuing to develop a highly and relevantly skilled population is essential to improving productivity and sustainable economic growth.
The UK Industrial Strategy sets out the aim to boost productivity by backing businesses to create good jobs and increase the earning power of people throughout the UK with investment in skills, industries, and infrastructure leading to a transformed economy.
The strategy identifies five components of every successful economy:
- Ideas (aiming to develop the world’s most innovative economy - the main focus of the strategy’s vision).
- People (aiming to create good jobs and greater earning power for all)
- Infrastructure (aiming to implement a major upgrade to the UK’s infrastructure)
- Business environment (aiming for the UK to be the best place to start and grow a business)
- Places (aiming to develop prosperous communities across the UK).
Four Grand Challenges areas are set out in the Strategy, with the aim of putting the UK at the forefront of Industries of the Future:
- Artificial Intelligence and data
- Ageing society
- Clean growth
- Future of mobility
To help deliver the strategy, the government has established the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. This will provide funding to tackle the Grand Challenges, strengthening science and business innovation in the UK, forming part of the government’s £4.7 billion investment in research and development.
It is hoped that the City Deal will position the Belfast Region so that it can take advantage of this.
Published in 2016, the AMME Report identifies much potential for the Advanced Manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland. It recognises the sector’s status as the largest in Northern Ireland as well as a palpable critical mass in materials handling.
In order to maximise this potential companies are encouraged to seek opportunities for collaboration wherever they lie and to look beyond localised networking.
The report identifies that limited access to up-to-date equipment is currently a challenge to Northern Ireland’s competition in global markets.
The Life Sciences Industrial Strategy identifies Northern Ireland’s existing core strengths in the life sciences sector, one of the dominant sectors in the UK. These include regional excellence in diagnostics, clinical trials, and drug development, as well as expertise in health analytics. This is aided by Northern Ireland’s unique dataset and Electronic Healthcare Record which incorporates unique patient identifiers for over 500,000 individuals.
The Strategy outlines an ambition to exploit these strengths through a vision for Northern Ireland to become a ‘living lab’, as well as to build our life sciences industry into a global hub that makes the UK the home of clinical research and medical innovation’.
To ensure that these aims are implemented, the Strategy makes a recommendation for the workings of industry and health care systems to be more closely aligned. The need for collaboration was further underlined in the February 2019 report of the Topol Review.
Conducted by Professor Wendy Hall and Jerome Resenti, this report is written around the vision of seeing the UK becoming the best place in the world for businesses developing and deploying AI to start, grow, and to realise all the benefits.
The report identifies that the UK has combined historical and current strengths which enables it to be a leader in this area. For example, the UK now has 1.64 million tech jobs in the tech industry, and the growth rate of the market was more than double of the non-digital market between 2011 and 2015.
The report also estimates that AI will add an additional £630bn to the UK economy by 2035. As well as having benefits for industry, it will be a very effective tool in addressing public sector challenges, and improving efficiency in mainstream services. Ultimately, AI is widely seen as having enormous potential to improve the functioning of many sectors.
However – this amazing potential can only be retained and improved if changes are made in how AI is used. The report’s main recommendations are as follows:
- Improve access to data
- Improve supply of skills
- Maximise UK AI research and commercialisation
- Support uptake of AI
The report emphasises that pursuing AI excellence in the UK must be a joint effort, which can only be achieved by government, academia, and industry collaborating to implement and develop AI into the future.