The UK needs a new framework to encourage industrial growth, this framework should be designed to encourage and nurture a new generation of 21st century ready companies, support and increase our trade potential with and beyond the EU, establish the UK as one of the most attractive destinations for foreign investment and funding.
The new Industrial Strategy green paper is this government’s approach to providing the country with a national framework for growth. Over the next few months the paper will be out for consultation where views will be sought from across sectors and from across the UK. The process for developing the strategy will be iterative and we will have to wait to see if the critics which have already questioned the scale and ambition of the strategy are proven correct.
The system is right to question the boldness of the strategy, in times like these industry seeks reassurance from government that it understands not only the current challenges it faces, but also recognises the pace of change some sectors are experiencing, whether this be in driverless cars, drone deliveries, check-out less supermarkets or the evolving role of AI in healthcare. The private sector requires support from Government, not just for the here and now but also for the future.
As well as signal to the UK that the country is open and ready for the 21st century, the Industrial Strategy will have failed if it does not also recognise the need to address the long-standing and growing health and wealth inequality gap between the most affluent parts of the country and the poorer more deprived cities and rural areas in the North.
If we use health, and by association life expectancy, as an indicator of this divide then from 1965 to 2015 the northern half (30 million) of England experienced a fifth more premature (under age 75) deaths than the southern half. This amounts to around two million Northerners dying earlier than they would have done if they had experienced the same life chances as those in the South.
The need to address this imbalance between North and South seems to have been acknowledged in the Industrial Strategy Green paper with numerous references to development of the strategy beyond the ‘golden triangle’ of Cambridge – Oxford – London. In particular the life and health sciences component of the strategy, being led by Sir John Bell on behalf of government is already recognising the need to work with and develop the successful cluster that has developed in the north. Recent analysis by IPPR North showed that the North’s health and life science sector accounts for £17.5 billion of the North’s £305 billion output (GVA) and it is forecast to grow by 44.6% by 2030. The sector employs over 570,000 people with over 38,000 of those in highly skilled private sector positions across 1,000 private sector life science companies. Combined these companies exported £7.3 billion worth of medicinal and pharmaceutical products in 2015.
The UK is the largest bio-cluster in Europe and globally it is ranked fourth behind Boston, San Francisco and San Diego. To maintain this global position the UK needs to capitalise on its core strengths and USP.
What is unique to us in the UK is the NHS – one of the largest and longest running universal, healthcare systems, where the use of personal health data for the public good is valued. It is a driving force in the UK’s ability to innovate and improve its health services as well as health outcomes for people living across the UK. This unique selling point has been recognised and much discussion surrounding the Life Sciences Industrial strategy is focused on the NHS. Through my organisation’s role on the Life Science Strategy Steering Board the North’s health community is directly inputting into the shape of this strand of the industrial strategy. Whilst the North needs to be recognised, we have to acknowledge that the Industrial Strategy has to be truly national. The so-called ‘golden triangle’ should receive continued investment – but not at the expense of the rest of England or the devolved nations. The new strategy makes a commitment to explore R&D strengths beyond the ‘golden triangle’ and we need to make sure it is delivered upon. In our recent ‘Health Innovation Breathing Life into the Northern Powerhouse’ report with IPPR North we called for government to aim to commit 20% of its health research budget to the North as ‘catch up capital’ to stop the skewed funding which sees London, Oxford and Cambridge receive a disproportionate amount of the national budget
An economy which is fit for all would address the life-gap across the UK. Despite its economic growth potential, the North’s population experiences England’s worst health outcomes. Life expectancy reduces from south to north England with every Government Office Region showing significantly more early deaths the further north the region sits. This is a persistent problem with disturbing trends. These inequalities are rising, particularly among working age people, with over 40% higher mortality among men age 35-49 in the North compared with the South. Over the past four years, four decades of improving premature mortality has flat-lined, with rises now being seen in Northern parts of England – a pattern rarely seen outside wartime.
The government must invest in northern life sciences to close the North-South gap in economic growth and health post Brexit, A sick population cannot work in the same way as a healthy population.
If we are to thrive in the North of England we need a workforce that is healthy and a smart Industrial Strategy which will tackle health and wealth together.
Dr Hakim Yadi OBE
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