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Universities a key lever for growth

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Although the economy overall is growing only slowly, key sectors are experiencing high growth up to four times faster than the economy as a whole.

Companies involved in scientific research and development have experienced the highest levels of growth in the last four years, followed by healthcare and transport related companies. This may lead to some areas across the country re-visiting or reinforcing efforts toward their priority sector strategy.

Areas such as Leicester and Leicestershire no doubt are expressing a mix of relief and optimism toward the future economic opportunities to come from this growth. Like many other parts of the UK, Leicester and Leicestershire focused investment and support strategies on its existing strengths in addition to new sectors showing signs of growth. Two years ago, that meant focussing on, amongst a few others, design enterprise growth, and transport and logistics; our fast growing sector.

This brings a few sectors into sharp focus if we are to buck the overall economic trend by driving higher local growth

In the last month we have just completed a year long programme to survey the skills and resource needs of employers across the sub-region, identifying key disconnects that result in a gap between supply and demand of some 20,000 jobs. And the long awaited answer – there are major gaps in research/design, transport/logistics and care sectors.

No surprise the other stand-out sector in need of intervention and support was manufacturing.

So, this brings a few sectors into sharp focus if we are to buck the overall economic trend by driving higher local growth, but how to best take advantage? Fortunately, our first Enterprise Zone at MIRA Technology Park, a UK centre for transport design, test and development is progressing well to create 5,000 jobs, alongside the national freight development which we hope will create 7,000 transport-related jobs. Meanwhile, we will tackle the need to better support and align the provision of skilled resources to the care sector, from clinical research to community care and support. 

I predict we will see a lot more enterprise area developments and closer collaboration with universities, including university hospitals. One thing is certain, and that is the role of universities in economic development will be a key enabler to take advantage of this growth potential.

Andrew Bacon, chairman of the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership; and regional director, British Gas

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