Comment: Time to realise life sciences potential

Doug Smith at the Scotsman Conference - Realising the Potential of Life Sciences. Picture: Neil Hanna
Doug Smith at the Scotsman Conference - Realising the Potential of Life Sciences. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Government helps, but we need to build up, says Patrick Wiggins

A YEAR ago our chairman, Doug Smith, wrote in The Scotsman of the need to create a forum to help drive to fruition the enormous potential of Scotland’s innovative life sciences sector.

Irvine Bay partnered with Scotsman Conferences to help create such a forum, and in February 2014 leaders from the sector, the Scottish Government, other agencies and advisers all gathered to discuss key issues to help take forward this key sector for our economy.

The report on the 2014 conference said: “Scotland has tremendous strength in life sciences, but needs better leadership and greater efficiency to deliver enhanced manufacturing capability and realise its full potential.”

We have great strengths in research, innovation, and in creating knowledge – our universities have a history at the forefront of research and development in the life sciences industry. And this continues today, with some of the world’s most prominent cancer, infectious disease, stem cells, genomics and diabetes studies all being conducted here – but we still have a lot of work to do to turn all of that ability from potential into maximising job opportunities on the ground.

Since the first conference, the Scottish Government has placed manufacturing and innovation at the heart of its strategy to “rebalance and reindustrialise” Scotland’s economy – and reaffirmed life sciences as crucial for economic growth. Scottish Enterprise is developing a manufacturing strategy for life and chemical sciences.

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So can Scotland build on the strengths identified at last year’s conference – a strong supply chain, sustainable manufacturing and good government support – and improve on its areas of weakness (its ability to scale up, its efficiency and better leadership) to realise its true manufacturing potential?

How can companies take advantage of incentives like Patent Box – which allows firms to apply a lower rate of Corporation Tax to profits earned from patented inventions and certain other innovations – and benefit from capital allowances and tax reliefs offered by Enterprise Areas such as the one we are responsible for delivering at i3, Irvine’s Enterprise area?

When the Scottish Government announced in 2013 that Irvine was to be the site of an Enterprise Area with a focus – though not an exclusive one – on the key life sciences sector last year, it provided an enormous opportunity to Irvine Bay in North Ayrshire. We are charged with delivering the Enterprise Area in partnership with other key stakeholders, in particular Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Development International, and North Ayrshire Council. Our aim is to work with the sector to help create jobs and opportunities in North Ayrshire.

Because of that, we are committed to continuing to help drive forward co-operation in the sector. That is why we are delighted that this year’s conference will examine how we can continue to develop a manufacturing strategy for the sector, and how we can forge more effective links between academia, industry, public bodies and those organisations like our own with a genuine investment in the success of the sector.

The conference will involve the Scottish Government at Ministerial level and a number of expert speakers. Life sciences has been identified as one of Scotland’s key economic sectors, with 600-plus organisations employing 32,000 people and adding more than £3 billion in value to the economy every year. The Scottish Government’s aim is to see the sector double that turnover by 2020.

The Enterprise Area itself – based on i3, Irvine Innovation and Industry business park and land around GlaxoSmithKline – offers life sciences and other businesses a range of benefits, including business rates relief and capital allowances.

The buildings meet a high standard, and there is superb access to all services including superfast broadband and an abundance of power, drainage and waste management.

We have a range of incentives that can be offered, but just as important is the high quality of what is on offer, the flexibility and competitiveness of the offer, and the high level of connectivity the site enjoys.

The 2015 Scotsman conference – LIFE SCIENCES: Realising The Manufacturing Potential – takes place on Tuesday 24 February at the National Galleries, The Mound, Edinburgh.
•Patrick Wiggins is chief executive of Irvine Bay Regeneration Company
www.irvinebay.co.uk