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Sun, 29 March 2020

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Ministers plan to boost investment with science agencies in Midlands and the North

Ministers plan to boost investment with science agencies in Midlands and the North
3 min read

Ministers are planning to build two scientific research bodies in the Midlands and the north of England in a bid to deliver on Boris Johnson’s promise to “unite and level up” regions across the UK.  


The Government is looking to develop an £800m “advanced research projects agency”, based outside of the traditional research “golden triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge. 

There are also plans to build “a centre of scientific excellence”, similar to the United States’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in the north of England, according to The Times

MIT is one of the leading universities in the US, and focuses on science and engineering. 

Last week, northern powerhouse minister Jake Berry said he was leading discussions to build a new educational institution in northern England.

He said: "We want to set up a world-leading institution in the north to rival Oxford and Cambridge, where the best and brightest will base themselves to create new ideas and sell them". 

During the election campaign, the Prime Minister pledged to double research and development spending to £18bn over five years, and has since promised to deliver “better infrastructure, better education, better technology.” 

The Government is also planning to overhaul rules on public spending so that public investments are decided upon whether they narrow the productivity gap with the south, it was revealed yesterday.

The Treasury’s current spending formula decides whether investments should be made based upon their impact to nationwide economic growth. 

According to The Times, the change in methodology could affect where the government opens free ports – tax free zones in coastal areas to encourage economy activity. 

The proposed changes aim to encourage investment into northern England, the Midlands and Wales. 

Rebalancing the economy is seen as a priority for Mr Johnson, after he secured his election victory by winning traditionally Labour-voting seats in areas like Durham, Blyth Valley and Grimsby. 

Lord Jim O’Neill, Vice-Chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, welcomed the changes: “I have long since believed, going back to the earliest discussions about devolution when I led the Cities Growth Commission and through by time at the Treasury, that the static, accounting-based approach of value for money in assessing investment projects does not make any sense.

“By definition, it adds to the attraction of projects in heavily-populated, economically-vibrant areas – usually London – and doesn’t allow for potential major productivity-enhancing projects elsewhere, including many in the North, and especially Northern Powerhouse Rail.

“I truly welcome a change to this approach, and hope it is for real. It would be a huge boost for many investments across the country, as well as throughout the Northern Powerhouse.”

Some Conservative members, however, seem wary of the government’s new fiscal approach. 

According to a survey by ConservativeHome, just under 60% of 1,073 respondents said they are “distrustful of interventionist politics, and […] nervous of this government straying too far from Conservative principles.”

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