THERE was a time when Yorkshire was a hotbed of innovation, providing the world with everything from stainless steel to Cat’s Eyes.
Between the 18th and early 20th centuries, the county’s inventors dreamed up innovations that made sea faring safer and showed that steam travel could be commercially viable.
There are many fine minds at work in Yorkshire today, but a long-standing failure to invest in research and development (R&D) is holding our economy back.
If Prime Minister Boris Johnson is serious about demolishing the North-South divide then he must devise incentives to ensure more firms establish research facilities in Yorkshire, where costs are lower and universities attract the world’s best.
He must place a priority on honouring his manifesto pledge to review the definition of R&D so that major investments in cloud computing and data, which could boost productivity and innovation in Yorkshire, are incentivised.
In the manifesto, the Conservatives outlined measure that aim to boost enterprise and innovation, such as R&D tax credits.
Mr Johnson has pledged to increase the tax credit rate to 13 per cent. These plans will certainly be welcomed by business leaders and they will want to see them implemented as quickly as possible.
Speaking just hours after the election result was announced, Jonathan Geldart, Director General of the Institute of Directors, said: “Many directors will be waiting for action on manifesto commitments such as incentives for R&D investment.”
Any step to provide a shot in the arm for the region’s R&D activities is long overdue.
The CBI has already warned that a lack of investment in R&D is hurting Yorkshire’s economy and preventing it becoming a global leader in the sector.
Just three regions - London, the South-East and East of England - account for 52 per cent of UK research and development spend and only five of the UK’s 40 sub-regions are investing more than three per cent of GDP.
The Yorkshire and the Humber region invests less in research than 17 other sub-regions in the UK.
This is a sobering conclusion.
In a recent report, “The Changing Nature of R&D”, the CBI called on Government to act on its commitment to publish a comprehensive roadmap and set out a long-term plan for government R&D expenditure.
The CBI has also recommended support for businesses to develop the capacities they need to understand and unlock value from their data.
Companies are currently only capturing a fraction of the potential value from data.
This is a colossal missed opportunity.
With a dash of boldness, companies could focus their energies on investments in cloud computing and the intelligent use of data to help their business grow.
Of all the reforms outined by the Conservatives in their manifesto, the proposals to nurture a culture that supports research are the most significant.
We must capitalise on the outstanding work that is already being carried out in the region.
The launch of the university of Leeds’ new innovation hub, Nexus, shows what can be achieved when business people and academics work together. Superb work to support innovation is taking place in York - a Science City - and Hull, where RB has made a major investment.
Fine work is also being carried out with global implications at the The University of Sheffield AMRC, which forms a cluster of industry-focused manufacturing R&D centres with supporting facilities.
But the new Government must step up to the plate by providing long term support and incentives for innovators.
A successful implementation of this policy could bring skilled, long term jobs to Yorkshire and allow the Conservatives to secure a permanent stronghold in places which were once painted deepest red.
If the Conservatives can deliver the world’s most competitive R&D tax credit system they will continue to make friends in the North.
It could help recapture the spirit of the pioneers who powered the first industrial age.