Written evidence submitted by the University of Nottingham (LRS0034)
The University of Nottingham (UoN) is one of the largest institutions of its kind in the UK, with a student population in the tens of thousands. We pride ourselves on being a global university and recruit students from all over the world. As well as possessing four campuses in the UK, we also have two growing international campuses in China and Malaysia. In the most recent Research Excellence Framework, our research was ranked 8th in the UK for Research Power, while we were also ranked in the world top 70 universities for employability by the QS Graduate Employability Rankings 2020.
UoN is a significant contributor to the UK economy, with an estimated impact of over £1 billion across the East Midlands. We are a major local employer and procurer of goods and services, while our international students and their visitors generate over £95 million for the Nottinghamshire economy. We believe that Higher Education institutions such as ourselves can help to level up regional disparities by improving the economic prosperity, educational opportunity, health and wellbeing and environmental sustainability of our local communities and businesses.
Together with Nottingham Trent University (NTU), we have developed the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two universities through the first Universities for Nottingham Civic Agreement. Over the next few years, this will improve the way we work with each other and with our local partners to help change the lives of local people for the better.
Up-to-date labour information is publicly available at a local authority, Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and regional level through NOMIS.
At a regional level, the Midlands Engine Economic Observatory brings together leading researchers and academics from Midlands universities, partner organisations and private sector research specialists. The Observatory provides regular insights and commentaries to Midlands Engine partners. Since April 2020, it has been publishing a fortnightly report on the impacts of COVID-19 on businesses across the Midlands. This provides a range of up-to-date economic information, emerging policy considerations and local intelligence.
At a local level, the D2N2 LEP maintains a data centre on its website that provides information on:
In addition to this, Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire County Councils both maintain Insight websites that provide information, data and original research about the local area.
Within the D2N2 LEP area, a comprehensive LIS evidence base of over 200 pages was published in the autumn of 2019. This covered a wide variety of statistical information based on the five Foundations of Productivity and four Grand Challenges set out within the national Industrial Strategy. In addition to this, the LEP also commissioned a number of supporting economic papers to inform the development of the LIS, which included contributions from each of the three universities within the D2N2 area.
Following the publication of the evidence base, the LEP also held a series of consultation events to seek the views of local stakeholders. This included a clean growth workshop organised in partnership with UoN. The workshop explored the challenges and opportunities within the area and participants were asked what clean growth priorities should be included within the LIS. The results of this consultation were then used to inform the development of the draft LIS.
Projects supported through funding streams such as the European Regional Development Fund, Local Growth Fund and the new Getting Building Fund are required to demonstrate value for money and additionality as part of the application and appraisal process by setting out a series of outcomes and outcomes that they will deliver in return for their funding. These are then closely monitored over the lifetime of the project to ensure that they deliver what has been contracted and provide value for money for the taxpayer.
Projects undertaken by UoN have also levered significant private co-investment and demonstrated significant tangible benefits to the local economy. The university continuously monitors these projects both during and after to maximise benefit.
At a local level, Nottingham is served by a unitary authority of 55 councillors representing a total of 20 wards, while Nottinghamshire is served first-tier local authority consisting of 66 councillors elected from 56 electoral divisions. The county is also divided into seven districts and boroughs, resulting in a two-tier system. All of the local authorities support economic and growth development. However, the services provided vary between councils, while provision has also been reduced due to shrinking local authority budgets.
At LEP level, UoN is covered by the D2N2 LEP, which serves the whole of Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. D2N2 is one of the largest LEPs in England, with a population of over two million and GVA of £46.6 billion in 2017. There is one designated Higher Education representative on the LEP Board, which rotates between the three universities within the area on a biannual basis.
At a regional level, UoN sits within the Midlands Engine area and is one of 20 Higher Education partners.
There is currently no Combined Authority or Devolution Deal for the East Midlands as exists within the West Midlands. This means that there is no single mayoral voice to lobby for Nottingham with government as exists for other Core Cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield. The East Midlands also suffers from a lack of public sector investment when compared to other parts of England, with public transport funding per person being well below the national average.
To support economic growth across the region, a new East Midlands Development Corporation is in the process of being formed. This has the potential to coordinate the delivery of transformational projects such as redevelopment of the Ratcliffe on Soar Power Station (due to be decommissioned in 2025), the proposed HS2 hub at Toton and adjacent Chetwynd Barracks site, and the area around East Midlands Airport, creating new homes and employment opportunities.
There is good partnership working between UoN and other public sector bodies at all levels to support the delivery of local growth.
Regular trilateral meetings are held between UoN, Nottingham Trent University (NTU) and Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire County Councils at Vice Chancellor and Leader level. In addition to this, six monthly quadrilateral meetings are also held involving all four organisations. Beneath this, there is regular interactions take place between staff to take forward the local growth agenda.
UoN’s Pro Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Science is also currently the chair of the One Nottingham, the strategic partnership for the city, and a member of the Nottingham Growth Board.
UoN is a key partner of the D2N2 LEP and has recently taken over the representation of the Higher Education sector on the main LEP Board. It is also represented on each of the LEP’s four thematic Advisory Boards, which oversee the delivery of the objectives set out in the Strategic Economic Plan, and is an active participant in the LEP’s COVID-19 recovery planning activity, providing academic insight and input.
At a Midlands Engine level, the region’s universities have two representatives on the Midlands Engine Executive Board. This provides leadership and accountability to the partnership to ensure the delivery of its vision. The Board has meetings on average four times a year and its membership is reviewed every two years or following any significant changes in circumstance for individual members.
One good example of the way that Higher Education can support local growth and act as a catalyst for greater collaboration is the Universities for Nottingham Civic Agreement that has recently been developed between UoN, NTU and key local stakeholders such as City and County Councils, LEP and hospital trusts.
Published in July 2020, the Universities for Nottingham Civic Agreement is the result of over 400 hours of conversation between over 150 local partners and colleagues across both universities. It sets out an action plan for the two universities to make a difference to the educational opportunity, economic prosperity, health and wellbeing and environmental sustainability of our local communities. As part of the action planning, the universities will measure the progress we are making working with our partners and report back on a regular basis.
We would query what is defined as being ‘regional growth’ by the Committee, as both the Midlands Engine and D2N2 LEP would describe themselves as being ‘regional’ bodies despite their significant differences in scale as they operate at a pan local authority level. The term ‘regional’ needs clearer definition as it has become blurred since the abolition of Regional Development Agencies with their clearly defined geographical boundaries and the introduction of new economic development initiatives and bodies such as the Midlands Engine, Northern Powerhouse, city regions and Combined Authorities that all operate on different scales and areas.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ model for delivering effective regional growth across England as this will be determined by a range of factors such as the existing local government structures and will of local business and political leaders. Different economic issues will also need to be addressed at different scales. While it makes sense to develop long-term regional plans for the development of interconnected transport infrastructure to facilitate future growth, other issues such as skills and employment are best coordinated on a more short-term and local level due variations between towns, cities and rural areas. To deliver effective regional growth, there must be agreement between all key stakeholders about what level economic development needs are best addressed at (i.e. Midlands Engine, LEP or local authority) and then effective structures, planning and funding should be put in place to address them.
Through their Boards and sub-groups, LEPs are able to represent a wide range of different interests across the local public, private and voluntary sectors. However, given the size and diversity of areas such as D2N2 with its two million population and 78,500 businesses, they will never be fully representative of all local business sectors and economic interests. This problem is amplified at a pan regional level, as this Midlands Engine partnership covers both the East and West Midlands, two very different regions, and must represent the interests of hundreds of thousands of business, dozens of local authorities as well as nine LEP areas and 20 universities. This makes agreeing on a single set of local economic priorities extremely difficult.
Although many economic policy initiatives and funding streams are set by central government, local stakeholders are able to bend these to fit their local economic needs through the development of local strategies such as Strategic Economic Plans and more recently LIS. However, as many of these funding streams are competitive and the final approval of applications to programmes such as the Local Growth Fund and European Structural and Investment Funds are made in Whitehall, the ability of local stakeholders to influence the direction of funding is more limited than having a dedicated local allocation of funding that they can allocate to the delivery of projects and programmes.
Local growth will only be achieved when evidence-based strategy development is aligned with long-term funding to enable the development and delivery of effective projects and programmes that address identified economic needs and market failures. Local authorities should support regional bodies such as the Midlands Engine and LEPs to develop a series of local strategic priorities through plans such as Local Industrial Strategies, utilising their local knowledge and data. They should then focus on the delivery of the aims and objectives of these plans, working in partnership with other local bodies within the public, private and voluntary sectors to develop projects and programmes that address agreed economic needs within the area.
The D2N2 area has traditionally suffered from a low skills – low pay equilibrium resulting in lower than average productivity in most industrial sectors and lower than average wages. The key to addressing this issue will be to raise overall productivity levels across the area, which in turn should increase wages and improve quality of life for local residents.
There is no simple answer to this question, as different economic needs are best addressed at different geographical scales. However, what is important is that national, regional and local levels do not work in isolation and that there is an alignment of strategic thinking from the national to the local level.
As previously stated, there is regular contact between UoN and Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire County Councils at a variety of different levels.
Regular trilateral meetings are held between the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University and Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire County Councils at Vice Chancellor and Leader level. In addition to this, six monthly quadrilateral meetings are also held involving all four organisations. Beneath this, there is regular interactions take place between staff to take forward the local growth agenda.
Engagement with district and borough councils is less regular. However, new initiatives such as the Stronger Towns Fund has increased the amount of engagement as universities will have a role to play in the development and delivery of the education and skills elements of Town Investment Plans.
Yes. The majority of the University’s engagement with local authorities is at a city and county rather than district level. This is primarily due to the City and County Councils having greater resources in terms of staff.
Yes. It is important that UoN engages as widely as possible with key local partners to understand their strategic priorities and objectives while also communicating its own strategic vision, academic knowledge and services. This will enable the development and delivery of new projects and programmes that will address economic needs and support local businesses and communities while also helping the university to further its own research interests.
For levelling up and growth to be effectively delivered, there needs to be a balance between strategy and delivery, with all tiers working together and attempting to align their plans, priorities and activities.
It is important that evidence gathering and consultation takes place from the bottom up to ensure that any strategies and priorities that are developed take local economic need into account. However, this also needs to take into account expert knowledge and the bigger strategic picture. Too many local government layers can also cause delays and deadlock in delivery, as city, county and district councils often have competing political and strategic interests.
There is also currently too much focus on strategy development and not enough on delivery. Within recent years, economic development strategies have been developed a national, regional, LEP and local authority level, yet there has been a lack of dedicated, long-terms resources and capacity directly aligned to these plans to ensure the delivery of their strategic objectives and proposed interventions. Local authorities and other key public and private stakeholders such as Higher Education should also focus more on being effective delivery partners and developing and delivering projects and programmes that will meet these strategic aims and objectives.
The LIS evidence base has highlighted that the D2N2 area has high CO2 emissions per capita due to significant concentrations of energy intensive industries, especially in Derbyshire, while the high concentration of manufacturing businesses within the area makes the transition to cleaner fuel sources more challenging. However, it has also outlined a range of potential economic opportunities for the area due to the higher than average research quality in Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment, and Environmental Science, Fuel Technology, Energy Engineering and Power Technology, and Environmental Science. These include:
To stimulate the transition to a zero carbon, clean growth has been included as one of three key guiding principles within the draft LIS, while the LEP has set out the objective of leading the most ambitious carbon turn-around in the country. A range of clean growth propositions have been included within the document for further discussion with government. These include:
Within Nottingham the drive to net zero emissions is already being led by the City Council, which has set an ambitious plan to be the first carbon neutral city in the UK with a target of net zero emissions by 2028.
UoN is fully supportive of these ambitions and is also providing support and leadership within this area. Our University Strategy sets out a specific objective of contributing to sustainable development goals:
We will make an outstanding contribution to supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through our research and education, our engagement with partners and our behaviour on campus and in our communities. We will place a special emphasis on environmental sustainability, supporting the City of Nottingham’s desire to be a net zero carbon city by 2028 and working with partners in China and Malaysia to improve sustainability within their regions.
No. Effective delivery can only take place when it is combined with clear and responsible leadership. However, at the same time transparent processes must also be put in place to manage potential conflicts of interest over the use of funding resources to ensure that these are not misused and provide value for money.
‘Shovel ready’ growth projects have the advantage of creating immediate investment in an area suffering from economic disadvantage. In the short-term, they can help to safeguard existing jobs in sectors such as construction and manufacturing as well as supporting local supply chains. In the medium and long-term, they also have the potential to create new jobs and businesses in growth sectors while also improving productivity and supporting the transition to a zero carbon economy.
To be most effective, projects must be strategic and aligned to the priorities and objectives of local and regional plans. They must also provide value for money and additionality to ensure that the short and long-term benefits that they bring to an area are sustainable and last longer than the initial investment.
UoN has recently been awarded £7.6 million from the Getting Building Fund to develop a new UK Electrification of Aerospace Facility. This will support the recovery of the UK aerospace industry through the development of new sustainable and competitive electrified propulsion systems with industrial partners. The project has the potential to create up to 300 new jobs in the long-term while also providing learning opportunities within the industry.
The East Midlands and D2N2 area has a number of key industrial sectors where there is the potential for further economic growth. These include aerospace, medtech, food and drink manufacturing and energy. Future investment in R&D within the region, through vehicles such as the East Midlands Development Corporation, should focus on nurturing these successful sectors and investing in projects that stimulate innovation by bringing together the research and knowledge base with local businesses. This would result in the development of existing industrial clusters, increased inward investment and the creation of new businesses and employment opportunities.
Local and regional priorities should be agreed through the development of evidence-based strategies that are built from the bottom up and are based on consultation with key stakeholders. This should include:
For the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to be effective in addressing regional inequality it must:
Local economic development bodies such as LEPs and local authorities should play a significant role in the allocation of future funding streams as they will have the best on the ground information about regional economic needs as well as knowledge about the delivery capacity and capabilities of local organisations. Ideally, the final decision making on funding streams should be devolved down to local areas. However, where decision making is retained at a national level, local economic development bodies should work closely with central government departments over the design and administration future schemes.
The role of local structures in the allocation of future funding should potentially include:
The British Business Bank should focus on ensuring that local business continue to have access to funding through programmes such as the Midlands Engine Investment Fund and that they are supported to start-up and grow. To maximise the economic recovery, the Bank should focus its resources on addressing productivity issues, supporting the transition to clean growth and supporting businesses with high-growth potential to maximise economic growth and job creation.
Project Speed should utilise existing economic data and strategic planning that has already taken place through the development of LIS rather than attempting to ‘start from scratch’ in the strategic prioritisation of new public investment. It is therefore important that the LIS process is completed and that the remaining Wave 2 and 3 LIS are discussed and approved by government so that every local area has an agreed set of strategic growth priorities. Any strategic decisions about future interventions should then be guided by these documents.
Levelling up will only be achieved if public sector resources are directed at areas of greatest need. Therefore, the government should develop a transparent needs based formula so that any future funding can be targeted at places where it is most required. Regional ringfenced allocations rather than competitive bidding processes should also be considered so that there is guaranteed investment in each area. Local stakeholders should then be consulted in the allocation of this funding, with delivery bodies being asked to bring forward proposals for growth projects that will address the identified economic needs of the local area.
As previously stated, local economic development bodies such as LEPs and local authorities should play a significant role in the allocation of future funding streams as they will have the best on the ground information about regional economic needs as well as knowledge about the delivery capacity and capabilities of local organisations. Ideally, the final decision making on funding streams should be devolved down to local areas. However, where decision making is retained at a national level, local economic development bodies should work closely with central government departments over the design and administration future schemes.
The D2N2 area already has a pool of local knowledge, skills and experience to support the delivery of Project Speed at a local level. Organisations such as UoN, the LEP and the local authorities all have staff who are experienced in the development of strategic plans, the administration of public funding and the delivery of projects that will result in local growth. They also possess sources of local information and data that will help to inform effective delivery.