In the UK, innovation policy is largely defined at national level. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is the government department responsible for designing innovation policies, along with a number of UK Government policy areas such as business and industrial strategy, science, energy and climate change. The Department, in particular, is in charge of ensuring cutting-edge research, science and innovation within the UK.
Innovation policies are delivered by Innovate UK, the country’s innovation agency, sponsored by BEIS. It is responsible for finding and driving science and technology innovations, thereby supporting UK businesses to move towards the industries of the future.
Innovate UK delivers a range of national programmes that support innovation across the UK with an annual budget in excess of £500 million (€560 million) by running, for instance, funding competitions open for projects led by a UK-based company in order to help develop innovative products, processes and services. In April 2018 Innovate UK became part of the newly formed UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), together with the seven Research Councils and a new organisation, Research England. In order to strengthen its presence and impact at regional and local level, in 2016 Innovate UK appointed a team of ten Regional Managers to cover the UK. The Regional Managers act as Innovate UK’s local representatives in the area, working to further develop and extend its relationships with key local partners, in particular raising awareness and understanding of Innovate UK and providing a direct channel of communication with each region.
Major local partners for the implementation of regional innovation measures and strategies are either the Devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, Local Authorities (city councils, metropolitan boroughs etc. at NUTS 3 level), Combined Authorities (CA), which are legal bodies set up by legislation that enables a group of two or more councils to collaborate and take collective decisions across council boundaries (key parts of government’s devolution agenda), or the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).
LEPs are business-led private-public partnerships and typically span a number of Local Authorities but not an entire (NUTS 1) region. The LEPs were created in 2010/11 and, in terms of geographical coverage, they are sub-regional, with a total of 38 LEPs currently operating in UK. While the concept of LEP was identified at national level, their design, composition and organisational structure is entirely ‘bottom-up’. The LEPs are led by local authorities and businesses across ‘natural economic areas’ and are focused on driving sustainable private sector growth and job creation in their area. Although there is no explicit requirement from a national level to focus on innovation, they share responsibility to deliver part of the EU Structural and Investment Funds for 2014-2020 targeted to innovation at the local level.
Through financing from the Regional Growth Fund programmes, they also operate their own support measures. An overarching structure, the LEP network, provides information that enables all members to come together to discuss issues of shared importance, engage with the UK Government, and share knowledge and good practice. LEPs and Innovate UK’s Regional managers work together to align their respective strategies for innovation and to understand and highlight the innovation strengths of the region.
Before the establishment of LEPs, the English Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) were responsible for regional innovation policies in the nine UK regions (NUTS 1). 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, most business-focused innovation support was defined by national policy and delivered locally by the RDAs. RDAs were closed in March 2012, marking thus the shift from structured regional policies based on NUTS 1 regions to a more local and varied approach to growth and development. No single body, in fact, is responsible any longer for regional innovation policy implementation in the nine NUTS 1 level regions in England. Since the abolition of the RDAs in 2012, many innovation support mechanisms and their funding have been delivered at the national level via Innovate UK.
However, London has a different governance structure compared to the rest of the UK. It has an elected mayor and assembly (25 elected members) that together form the Greater London Authority (GLA). The GLA has authority in areas of transport, police, economic development, as well as fire and emergency planning. In London, the functions of the former LDA (the Regional Development Agency for Greater London) have been incorporated into the GLA and the LEP’s role is limited to an advisory one, with the promotion of job creation and the boosting of economic growth as its objectives. The London Economic Action Partnership (LEAP) was launched in 2012, and reformed by newly elected Mayor Sadiq Khan in 2016. LEAP works together with businesses, entrepreneurs, the London Mayor and the London Councils. As a Mayoral appointed body, LEAP has no separate independent or corporate legal status, its role being limited to advising the Mayor. It operates through the GLA which acts as its “accountable body” when entering into funding arrangements with the Government or European Commission. Funding has been allocated to LEAP both from the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). LEAP works within the framework for London as defined in the London Plan and Mayoral strategies.
As for the other LEPs, their remit is business support in the broader sense. However, the GLA has a more explicit policy focus on innovation compared to the LEPs elsewhere in England. Several other organisations are also active at the regional innovation level, such as the British Library and London Higher.