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Investment zones will transform the industrial landscape

Credit: Alamy

Katherine Bennett CBE, CEO

Katherine Bennett CBE, CEO | High Value Manufacturing Catapult

5 min read Partner content

With the first of the Government's new investment zones confirmed earlier this month, Katherine Bennett CBE sets out how the initiative can re-establish the UK as a leading manufacturing economy.

The most exciting industrial policy of the year has arguably been the introduction of 12 new investment zones, each of which will receive £80m of government money.

The zones formed part of the Budget announcement in March and include sites in the West Midlands, Tees Valley and Greater Manchester. The cash can be spent over seven years on a range of areas, including infrastructure and training. Leaders from those places can target the money on exactly what is needed to grow the zone according to the unique circumstances of its location.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled the first investment zone at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) this month. The AMRC is one of the seven research centres that comprise my organisation, the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

We help companies - big and small - across every part of the UK turn their best ideas into commercial realities through working with our technicians, researchers, engineers and scientists. We’re helping manufacturers become smarter and make their supply chains more resilient. We know that with the right support, UK industry can lead the way on some of the biggest challenges we face, including net zero, jet zero, low productivity and energy security. This ranges from sparking a recycling revolution for industrial forging to robots that reduce chemicals in agriculture and scaling up new processes to create synthetic DNA.

That first investment zone, based in South Yorkshire, will act as a hub to start, scale and grow advanced manufacturing businesses. Clean energy, tackling ill health and harnessing new technologies will be among the focuses of this work.

High value manufacturing drives investment in skills and in R&D; it provides a productive economy and environmental solutions for the long term. Already, the AMRC has secured £80m to create the Composites at Speed and Scale (Compass) facility in Sheffield. Steve Foxley, AMRC’s chief executive, has played a brilliant role in attracting the Compass programme and aligning it to the investment zone. Compass will accelerate composites R&D for aerospace in the UK, helping to produce lighter commercial aircraft in a boost to the industry’s ambition to hit net zero carbon emissions.

The majority of composite components are manufactured by hand, which is a time-consuming process that can be further delayed because it is exposed to the potential for human error. Compass will help the aviation industry manufacture at a higher rate while maintaining the quality and accuracy that the sector requires, meeting expected demand for new aircraft by creating larger scale assemblies with reduced part counts.

The facility will be home to AMRC’s largest ever collaborative R&D programme, bringing together the best and brightest aviation minds from Kansas to Dorset. Aerospace manufacturing giant Boeing will work in partnership with Wichita-based Spirit AeroSystems and Dorchester’s Loop Technology. This project has the potential to create £2bn of export opportunities every year for the UK, clearly demonstrating the importance of manufacturing across many regions for how we grow the economy.

As the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt put it during his visit to the AMRC: "Our first investment zone is a shining example of how we will drive growth across the country. It's already secured more than £80m of private investment, including backing from Boeing, and (the investment zone) will help support more than 8,000 jobs by 2030."

As my colleague Steve Foxley pointed out, Compass will help establish South Yorkshire as ‘the leading R&D centre of excellence in the manufacture of composites at speed and scale’. He was also right to say that this will build on the work the AMRC and wider University of Sheffield has undertaken on hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel to build a green aerospace cluster in the region.

This flagship facility is a real vote of confidence in UK manufacturing and will create a powerful legacy, including high-skilled jobs that will support the government’s levelling up agenda. This is important to me, because I sit on the government’s Levelling Up Advisory Council, which looks to strengthen the government’s approach to place-based policy and delivery. We advise the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which works with the Treasury on the investment zones.

Investment zones are such an exciting policy because they bring potential and possibility, and will help achieve industrial transformation across the UK. These zones, alongside the Compass programme, give us a great insight into how an economy can do better. The combination brings an energetic level of engagement between the regional, local and national government, aligned to the capabilities on the ground – universities, businesses, and Catapults - to drive growth. I can clearly see the value of these clusters and it would be fantastic to see them roll out at pace. In fact, I’d welcome even more clusters, perhaps focusing on key areas of growth, such as green industries, life sciences and advanced manufacturing.

Make no mistake - this is a landmark moment in our efforts to re-establish the UK as one of the world’s leading manufacturing economies. This is how we build a more sustainable and prosperous tomorrow.

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Read the most recent article written by Katherine Bennett CBE, CEO - How the High Value Manufacturing Catapult is transforming UK manufacturing

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