Lancaster University has contributed to a government-commissioned report which has shown that the north of England generates an annual turnover of £91 billion and employs more than 400,000 people in the regional bioeconomy.
The UK government requested regional science and innovation audits (SIAs) to develop a new approach to regional economic development. The reports aim to help the UK regions analyse their strengths and identify mechanisms to fulfil their potential.
The north of England report, led by the University of York in collaboration with Lancaster University and other northern universities and colleges, research institutions, Local Enterprise Partnerships and businesses, showed that the region has the facilities, specialised research and innovation capability and industrial capacity to deliver a world-leading bioeconomy.
The bioeconomy is defined as the production of biomass and the conversion of renewable biological resources into value-added products such as food, bio-based products and bioenergy.
The report reveals that the UK’s bioeconomy, excluding agriculture, is the third-largest in the European Union after Germany and France and supports five million jobs directly and indirectly.
The consortium’s vision is one of an integrated and innovation-driven product, process and service bioeconomy in the north of England, allowing the region to compete in the multi-trillion-pound global market for sustainable food, feed, chemicals, materials, consumer products and energy.
Professor Koen Lamberts, Vice-Chancellor at the University of York, said: “The north of England has huge capabilities in areas such as agri-science, agri-technology, and industrial biotechnology, with the potential to address some of the UK’s biggest societal challenges.
“The north of England leads the UK in the volume of funded research aimed at increasing innovation in the bioeconomy, which puts the region in a very strong position to deliver a globally competitive industry.”
Professor Phil Barker, Director of the Lancaster Environment Centre, said: “Producing enough food is one of the great future global challenges requiring interdisciplinary solutions, from enhancing crop productivity to understanding future demand. Universities in the north of England, like Lancaster have the research base and multi-disciplinary teams working closely with business to answer this challenge.”
The report reveals the north of England has particular strengths in chemicals, process industries, and in food and drink. Food and drink represents around one-third of the regional bioeconomy and chemicals make up one-quarter.
The N8 Research Partnership, a northern university research consortium including Lancaster University, has a major interdisciplinary programme in agri-food research across eight universities in the region.
The region holds 38 per cent of the UK’s chemicals industry workforce, 31 per cent of the polymers industry workforce, and 36 per cent of apprenticeships relevant to the bioeconomy. The universities in the north also provide a quarter of the UK science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates.
Business Minister Lord Prior said: “The Science and Innovation Audits we are publishing today highlight the innovative strengths in regions across the UK and the significant growth and investment opportunities they present.
“Together with our record investment of an additional £4.7 billion for research and development to 2020/21, we are working closely with regional businesses and partners to ensure the ambitions set out in these reports are delivered to maintain our status as a science powerhouse.”