UK to embark on first Science and Innovation Audits

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An audit of the UK's science and innovation capabilities is now underway

The UK's first five areas to undergo Science and Innovation Audits have been announced by the government, with the scheme aiming to identify and build on the potential of local communities and businesses.

Five pilot areas have now been determined by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to take part in the project. They are:

  • Edinburgh and the Lothians city region
  • South-west England and South-east Wales
  • Sheffield city region and Lancashire
  • Greater Manchester and east Cheshire
  • The Midlands

A total of 26 applications were made by local authorities and city regions that believed they could act as a hub for future science and innovation for the nation as a whole, with business secretary Sajid Javid and universities and science minister Jo Johnson having the honour of making the final selection.

Following the announcement of the government's decision, Mr Javid said: "From the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry to the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, the UK has hot-spots of expertise that are propelling us forward in global innovation.

"Auditing the strengths in our regions will help us to build a long-term strategy for global competitiveness and help ensure that hotspots generate more than the sum of their parts.

"Science and innovation are crucial to increasing regional productivity and growth, which is why we've protected the science budget in real terms until 2020, and why we are developing a National Innovation Plan."

The audit programme will now see universities, research and innovation organisations, businesses, and Local Enterprise Partnerships all coming together to pool their resources and provide a detailed breakdown of each region's scientific and innovative capabilities.

Once this has been determined, the potential for each area to specialise in specific areas of innovation or science will be more readily understood, allowing for more focused investment in services and infrastructure that could support these aims in the years ahead.

The scheme was first announced by the universities and science minister in July last year and forms part of ongoing plans to drive an upturn in STEM - science, technology, engineering and maths - careers for young people across the UK.

A growing number of skills shortages are being witnessed across the country at present, with STEM professionals among the most sought after.

It therefore makes great sense for the government to better ascertain the present state of the nation's ability to deliver these essential professions and carrying out these audits will be a crucial part of that process.

Indeed, Mr Johnson stated at the outset of the initiative: "It is crucial that the UK supports excellence wherever it is found. The government will therefore invite universities, cities, Local Enterprise Partnerships and businesses to work with the government to map the strengths of different regions through a series of science and innovation audits."

Set to be completed during the coming months, it is hoped that the first results of these efforts will be seen by autumn this year. Furthermore, the government has announced that further areas will be added to this initial five-region list of pilot schemes as the year progresses.

Details of the methodology behind how each region will be classified in terms of their existing scientific and innovative expertise are available at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills website, while a second call for expressions of interest in the project will be made shortly.