To consider the attached report and undertake external scrutiny of the UK Innovation Corridor with the Director, John McGill, and Chairman, Dr Ann Limb.
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee agreed to bring forward this item at the meeting.
The Chairman, Councillor M Sartin, introduced from the UK Innovation Corridor, Director Dr J McGill, and Independent Business Chairman, Dr A Limb, as the Committee had requested an opportunity to undertake external scrutiny of this organisation. The Innovation Corridor’s geographical area extended from north east London to Cambridge and Peterborough, and from Stevenage eastwards to beyond Stansted Airport. The local authorities that formed the Innovation Core included Epping Forest (a founder member), Broxbourne, East Hertfordshire, Harlow and Uttlesford district councils.
The Innovation Corridor had become the UK’s most productive region and was home to 2.1 million jobs. A fifth of those people were employed in the ‘knowledge economy’ – ICT, life sciences, advanced manufacturing and engineering, transport and logistics. The main sectors for Epping Forest were construction, business services, public admin and health, but lower employment in the information, financial services, communications and R&D sectors.
How did the Innovation Corridor support the Council? It was a voice to Advocate, Broker and Co-ordinate – an ABC. It was a non-statutory, like-minded group and coalition of the willing that gave it a bigger voice to lobby national and London government and private investors for districts’ ambitions, such as Harlow and Gilston and the Digital Innovation Zone (DIZ). The Innovation Corridor was a leading sci-tech region and was a collective corridor to England as a whole. It lobbied for infrastructure, rail, road and digital, and promoted the local economy but there were areas of deprivation. It helped to promote investment opportunities, such as those for the North Weald Airfield Masterplan. The London Stansted Cambridge Corridor was also referenced in the Council’s Local Plan Submission Version (December 2017) in respect of employment needs across the functional economic market and the needs of the Council.
Councillor M Sartin asked why it had changed its name? Dr A Limb replied that while its former name the London – Stansted – Cambridge Consortium had identified its geographical location, the UK Innovation Corridor evidenced the importance of ‘innovation’ to match the scale of its ambitions, and no one else had claimed the name.
Councillor B Jennings asked what work had been done to promote skills and what was its support in this area? Dr A Limb replied that colleges within the Innovation Corridor were now collaborating more effectively as they had signed the Regional Skills Concordat to get investments into colleges and therefore, would have the skills going forward to retrain older workforce and provide the younger workforce with the skills it needed. Dr J McGill added that it was a fragmented system, but the Innovation Corridor was bringing colleges together, and as a collective would get more attention from the business sector.
Councillor S Murray was glad to hear about the work they were doing with colleges and that there was more collaboration, However, he had not seen much on their website about economic growth that could widen social inequality. How did they mitigate this effect? Dr J McGill replied that they recognised economic growth could widen social inequality and were trying to address this sizeable issue. Just as the first Covid-19 lockdown was starting, the Innovation Corridor had established a commission with City of London, Cambridge academics, the Cambridge and Peterborough Mayors to address these points. He would email this suggested policy document, “Covid-19: A recovery where no-one gets left behind”, to the Democratic Services Manager, G Woodhall, after the meeting to distribute to members.
Councillor J M Whitehouse asked what was Innovation Corridor’s contribution specifically to North Weald, Harlow and Gilston? Dr J McGill replied that they had started working with the District councils on Harlow and Gilston about five years ago and there had been a willingness to collaborate. The Local Plan Submission Version was a part of this. They promoted the Harlow Gilston Garden Town. They were aware of North Weald Airfield’s importance for aviation use and housing and were keen to be involved in the Council’s own NWA masterplan. The collective opportunities were there as they could promote it further to their London partners and on their website. Councillor J M Whitehouse asked what potentially stopped people investing here? Dr J McGill replied, uncertainty. Every uncertainty was an investment risk. Was there a planning process in place and was a development an investor was proposing being addressed by planning officers? Investors tried to minimise risk. The Innovation Corridor was an important asset for the UK, and by raising its profile was a corridor to the world. If it got the attention of a major developer with a host of other people attracted to the corridor because it met their specific requirements, the proposal would then get down to local authority level.
Councillor D Wixley asked how the Innovation Corridor was funded and were its employees full or part time? Dr A Limb replied that it was essentially funded by annual contributions from local authorities. Although modest, they could contribute in kind with their time, expertise and engagement. Private investors, developers and businesses would also sponsor initiatives. The Innovation Corridor would match private sector funding with local authority funding but did not receive government funding. It had a good governance structure. Innovation Corridor had a range of different authorities and focused on infrastructure planning/development and employment skills. Dr J McGill added that business sponsorship enabled it to organise an annual conference and visit trade shows. It was in the business of collaboration and received £30,000 sponsorship from Manchester Airports Group and the Greater London Authority. Uttlesford District Council was also a partnership member. The Business Skills Concordat had helped broker an agreement with the Mayors of London and Peterborough.
Councillor D Plummer asked about the Innovation Corridor’s approach to carbon neutrality and reducing road traffic, and for businesses to be environmentally sustainable, as well as investment from environmentally sensitive sources in reference to it receiving sponsorship from the Manchester Airports Group. J McGill replied that it was very active on promoting more journeys by rail particularly on the West Anglia mainline. Airports were big producers of carbon emissions as was Manchester Airports Group, but most of the passenger journeys to and from Stansted Airport were by public transport. How much impact Covid-19 would have on changing working practices and on homeworking, only time would tell. The Innovation Corridor was a member organisation and quite a few of the local authorities had declared climate emergencies, so its agenda was shaped by its members.
The Chairman thanked J McGill and Dr A Limb for taking this opportunity to address the Committee as it was important for members to have heard what the Innovation Corridor was doing and present an overview of its work.
(1) That appropriate external scrutiny of the UK Innovation Corridor on the effect of its work across Epping Forest District be noted; and
(2) That the Democratic Services Manager circulate to all councillors after the meeting, the UK Innovation Corridor’s suggested policy document “Covid-19: A recovery where no-one gets left behind”.