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Movers and Shakers – Dr Ann Limb, spearheading the country’s scientific powerhouse

Movers and Shakers

This is our new profile series spotlighting people who are working to grow our region.

The global pandemic has highlighted the integral role that scientific innovation plays in our society. Thanks to UK-based pioneers we have digital technology like track-and-trace to keep us safe; data science informing Government decisions to navigate our path, and multiple vaccines giving us hope we’ll live normal lives again.

The UK Innovation Corridor – an economic zone between London and Cambridge, which overlaps and aligns with the north and east boroughs of the Local London sub-region – is home to some of the brightest scientists on the planet and wants to spearhead the country’s efforts to remain a global scientific powerhouse.

In the latest instalment of Movers & Shakers, we spoke to its independent chair Dr Ann Limb to find out more about that work.

For people unfamiliar with the UK Innovation Corridor, where is it?

Geographically speaking, it’s a 65-mile long radial corridor bookended by two globally renowned cities in London and Cambridge. It spans the area north from Royal Docks in Newham, into Tech City, the City Fringe, Kings Cross, and the Olympic Park, up through the Lee Valley, the M11, A1 and A10, the East Coast and West Anglia Mainline rail routes to Stevenage, Harlow and Stansted, and through to Cambridge and Peterborough. It’s unique as a functional economic geography because both Cambridge and London are governed by mayors. It was originally established as a voluntary consortium in 2013.

Who’s involved and what makes it unique?

It involves local authorities, businesses, LEPs, universities and colleges, and is governed by a non-statutory board which I chair. We are the country’s leading science-tech region. There are major concentrations of activities in life sciences, ICT, digital and media, agri-tech and advanced manufacturing – all ensuring economic success for the area and for the whole nation. The UK innovation Corridor benefits from long established partnerships and effective cross boundary collaboration. We are also globally connected with other sci-tech regions.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became chair?

The local authorities in the corridor didn’t want a political leader. They felt an independent chair was better positioned to fulfil their purpose. Having independently chaired an LEP in the South East Midlands from its establishment – a similar partnership of local authority leaders and businesses – which got stuff done, I had relevant experience. I also know my way around Whitehall and Westminster and a key element of the role is about raising our profile with Government, the opposition and civil servants. I think that was the part that nailed it for me.

How would you describe your approach?

Our approach is through what we call our ABC. ‘A’ means advocate, and we advocate on behalf of our individual boroughs. We can say things to Government, for example, in a non-political way that reinforces messages for individual boroughs. ‘B’ means broker. We make connections for our businesses who are also key members of the corridor to broker inward investment opportunities from the private sector.  ‘C’ means co-ordinate. We co-ordinate things. For example, if we know of something really fascinating like the sustainability plans for Meridian Water, which are being mirrored in South Cambridgeshire, we will link them up.

What are your priorities?

There is real recognition the key distinctive industrial connections between London and Cambridge lie in life sciences, data science, and health technologies They are successful and growing in  London and Cambridge and also in the Innovation Core which lies at the heart of the Corridor around Harlow and Stansted, This is where the research and ideas created in London and Cambridge are turned into global products and services. We really want to be distinguished and recognised for these specialisms. Globally, we compare very well with international peers in Boston, Philadelphia, Carolina, the Silicon Corridor and Shenzen.

This Government has an ambition post-pandemic and post-EU to be a scientific superpower riding on the back of what the prime minister described as our “world-beating” work to turn around the vaccines so quickly. This completely aligns with the distinctiveness and delivery capability of UK Innovation Corridor. We want the Government to recognise the need to put resources into science to maintain that global competitiveness and to remain a global superpower. We have produced a plan and set out our asks of Government and we will be working with our MPs and partners to make this case.

What will success look like for the Innovation Corridor?

We have a set of indicators we are working towards. We have the capacity to increase our contribution towards national GVA from £189 billion to £350 billion by 2050. We have the ambition to be the world’s ‘go to’ hub for life sciences. We have also identified other ingredients to make the area successful. On data, its indicators like increased productivity, increase in population and housing growth, and increases in inclusive skills. Instead of importing skills, we want to improve the skills of residents living in our local communities.

What does the day-to-day work of the Innovation Corridor look like?

We don’t have a large team. We have a director (John McGill) and myself.

We have an annual workplan and a communications plan., which were both approved by our Board in January. There are four areas of endeavour where every local authority is focused. They are our 3 I’s, namely Infrastructure, Inward Investment, Inclusive economy and skills.  We have an annual conversation with each borough and explore what we can do specifically for them in those areas and hold an annual conference to create a platform for our MPs and leaders. During the pandemic, we’ve held webinars which has meant we’ve been able to have global engagement. We also publish research.

And how are you influencing Government to back you?

This is our primary task. We have an APPG, which is co-chaired by a Conservative and a Labour MP, and that is a forum for MPs and peers to explore ways to support our ambitions. More directly, we do have meetings with ministers which are facilitated for us by our MPs. Key departments for us are BEIS, DIT DfE and MCHLG. We respond to consultations and set-pieces like the Budget and the Comprehensive Spending Review. We ask our MPs and peers to ask questions in the House and create platforms for them in return. I have written to both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. One of my ambitions is to hear the PM, the Chancellor or the Business Secretary use the words ‘The UK Innovation Corridor is the means for the UK to become a scientific global superpower’. That would make my year! We also engage the opposition. That is equally important.

And finally, how do residents and businesses benefit from living and operating within the Innovation Corridor?

I doubt local people would acknowledge it. The difference will come via their local council. For example, through money we have been able to leverage, or through collaborative work we’ve catalysed around subjects like housing capacity or sustainable development. With businesses, we do provide support. We did a whole programme on economic recovery recently and worked with Stansted to promote their skills work. There are businesses here that reference themselves as being part of the UK Innovation Corridor now and therefore using our brand, which is a strong message. We need more of that.

Find out more about the Innovation Corridor: innovationcorridor.uk


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