The South West region is comprised of the extreme south west peninsula of England. It includes the counties of Devon and Cornwall (and the Isles of Scilly) plus the counties of Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. The region is characterised by a largely rural landscape, a long coastline, many market towns and small settlements and a few medium sized cities such as Bristol, Exeter and Swindon. Economic performances vary significantly around the region, from well below average in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to above average in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and N. Somerset. This is also reflected in the sector balance of the region, with the south more dependent on rural activities and tourism while the northern and eastern counties have a much more mixed economy including high-technology manufacturing (e.g. aerospace, defence, electronics) and knowledge-based industries (digital media, semi-conductor design, financial services).
The South West UK region is large in geographical extent with an average population of 5.3m (8% of the UK population, Eurostat) that has grown of 7.2% between 2001 and 2011 (UK National Statistics).
In 2010, it had a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of €24,600 per inhabitants, which was slightly below the UK average at €27,500 (Eurostat). It contributed £98b (€115b) towards the UK's gross value added (GVA) figure in 2010 - almost 8% of the UK total. This is also below UK average, however over the last decade, the region's GVA has grown relatively well compared with the UK average.
The region, as a whole, has the lowest unemployment rate in the UK (5.5% in the fourth quarter of 2012, UK National Statistics) and half its employed population worked in science and technology jobs in 2011 (Eurostat). 39% of the inhabitants aged 25-64 had a tertiary education diploma in 2012, which is similar to the UK average (Eurostat). Compared to other UK regions that are connected to the English Channel, South West England performs relatively low in terms of international trade, with exportations accounting for 11% of its GVA in 2010 while the UK average is at 20% (UK National Statistics).
However economic performances vary significantly around the region, from well below average in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to above average in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and N. Somerset. These intra-regional differences are often greater than inter-regional ones, with businesses in the north and east of the region more heavily influenced by the competitive pressures of the South East and West Midlands than the southern counties. This is also reflected in the sector balance of the region, with the south more dependent on rural activities and tourism while the northern and eastern counties have a much more mixed economy including high-technology manufacturing (e.g. aerospace, defence, electronics) and knowledge-based industries (digital media, semi-conductor design, financial services). The region is home to major multinational companies such as BAE Systems, Airbus, Rolls Royce, HP, Honda, Toshiba or Intel.
Bristol is the key economic city-region. It sits at the Western end of the so-called 'M4 corridor' - a highly active economic area that follows the M4 motorway from Bristol to London.
The South West's investment in R&D is slightly above the UK average, with Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD) of 2.15% of GVA. The region also had a higher than (UK) average of BERD as a percentage of Gross Domestic Expenditure on R&D (GERD) - 69% in the South West compared to 62% in the UK as a whole. After business, government is the largest contributor to GERD in the region. Its performance in terms of innovation outputs places in the middle range of UK regions. The South West performs particularly well in the introduction of existing products and services (in the top three performing regions of the UK) but less well in the introduction of novel products and processes. Despite this it is one of the UK's top performing regions in terms of patents.
The region is home to eight universities and four higher education colleges including several research intensive universities and those with a focus on science and technology such as the universities of Bristol, Bath and Exeter. The University of Bristol is ranked eighth in the UK and 34 th worldwide in the 2009 Times Higher Education/QS university ranking system and the university is a focal point for the Bristol Science City initiative. The region has made significant investments in creating wider access to higher education in the region, supporting the development of the University of Gloucestershire and higher education colleges in Cornwall.
The region is home to a large number of public- sector research establishments including the a major defence research centre at Porton Down, the Metrological Office, the Health Protection Agency, UK Hydrographic Office, National Oceanography Centre and the UK's seven Research (funding) Councils. The region is also home to a number of industrial R&D facilities of major multinational businesses such as Toshiba, HP, BAE Systems and four science/innovation parks. However much of the R&D activity, academic, public and industry, is concentrated in the North and East of the region.
The English Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), which were previously responsible for regional innovation policies in the nine UK regions (NUTS 1), were closed in March 2012, marking the shift from structured regional policies based on the nine NUTS 1 regions in England to a more local and varied approach to growth and development.
This means that there is no longer one single body responsible for regional innovation in each of the nine NUTS 1 level regions in England. However, single governing bodies remain in the Devolved Administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In England innovation measures and strategies, where they exist, are now the responsibility of either Local Authorities (city councils, metropolitan boroughs etc. at NUTS 3 level) or Local Enterprise Partnerships.
The Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) were created in 2010/11 at sub-regional level. They are business-led private-public partnerships focused on private sector growth and job creation (rather than innovation per se). They are active at the scale of 'functional economic areas' - meaning that local stakeholders have been able to design and build partnerships that span geographical areas as they see fit. There are 39 LEPs in total, 6 of them covering the South West region.
LEPs are typically overseen by a Board comprising local business and public sector leaders and local universities. At present most LEPs are informal arrangements with one Local Authority taking responsibility for contractual and financial matters on behalf of the Partnership. However more formal organisational and governance models are starting to appear. LEPs' activities are managed via a 'delivery board' made up predominantly of staff of from the Local Authorities and staff from other existing regional bodies such as Chambers of Commerce. However as a result of a recent study (by Rt Hon the Lord Heseltine) LEPs are to be provided with 'base funding' to ensure that they are run by a dedicated management and delivery team.
An overarching structure, the LEP network, provides information that enable LEPs to come together to discuss issues of shared importance, engage with the UK Government, and share knowledge and good practice.
In addition to the LEPs there are some other organisations relevant to the governance of regional innovation (e.g. NHS Innovations South West).
Regional innovation policy in the UK began when the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) were established in 1998 under the Labour government. Innovation increasingly became an important feature of their activities over a number of years, with a wide range of different policies implemented across the UK. Although specific regional policy responses varied, they tended to include: support for knowledge transfer and collaboration between the research base and industry; support for clusters and science /innovation parks; investment in R&D infrastructure and centres of excellence. Regions were also tasked with delivering a number of national innovation programmes at the regional level.
In 2006/07 the range of programmes and services for business support (including innovation) underwent a process of simplification. As a result of which, the most business focused innovation support was defined by national policy and delivered locally by the RDAs.
Since the abolition of the RDAs many innovation support mechanisms and their funding have returned to a system of delivery at the national level, most typically via the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). LEPs are not explicitly tasked with innovation policy, instead their priority is to support and develop the local private sector and stimulate local growth. This however may include an innovation agenda, depending on the strengths and needs identified within the region.
The UK government announced in April 2013 that LEPs will be given the responsibility to deliver large part of the EU Structural and Investment Funds for 2014-2020 that put forward innovation, research and technological development as key priorities. As a consequence, it is expected that most of the LEP investment strategies for structural funds will include innovation. Currently most of the LEPs are in the process of developing strategic plans for local growth that should align with national priorities and include their EU investment strategy.
There has therefore been an overhaul in the UK regional/local policies and their governance over recent years and it is not clear yet how much LEPs will focus on local innovation policies. Currently innovation policy is largely defined and delivered at national level, designed by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, delivered, for example, by the TSB.