A five-point plan to breathe new life into a sector that is ready for ambitious expansion plans, says Patrick Wiggins.
The expected refresh of Scotland’s life science strategy due to be announced within the coming months will have a major impact on the future of the sector and in particular it is expected to stress the importance of manufacturing. The Scottish Government has also signalled their commitment to manufacturing in the Re-industrialising Scotland for the 21st Century report published in June.
Life Sciences already employs an estimated 32,000 people – but the determination is that it should offer employment to thousands more.
Scotland enjoys world-class performance in scientific research. Scotland’s universities and research centres punch well above their weight in attracting funding and the quality of research. We have a long history of being 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 cell, genomics and diabetes studies being conducted here.
The Scottish Government has set an ambitious target – to double the sector’s turnover from £3.2 billion to £6.4bn by 2020. Yet only £750 million of the current £3.2bn sector annual turnover in Scotland comes from manufacturing. Our ability to grow sufficiently to meet the target set in the Life Sciences strategy through research and innovation will be limited in an area where we already enjoy enormous success.
To achieve that, we need to translate more of the research carried out in our institutions into “boots on the ground” jobs in manufacturing – and high quality manufacturing jobs at that.
One of the areas of weakness we need to address is our ability to harness all of our world-class research and innovation capability in order to create a much larger manufacturing base. We need to remember that we are brilliant innovators in Scotland – both in terms of inventing, but also in terms of making things.
So what are some of the barriers we need to overcome? Clearly, the strategy will address these in detail but the following will undoubtedly figure to some degree or other:
n We need to bring the sector together to capitalise on the opportunity to create a larger, more diverse and robust and sustainable industry
n We need skilled and motivated people to create our workforce – and to that end many people within the sector are already working with the education sector at all levels, including Irvine Bay through its innovative Talking Science partnership with the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and Skills Development Scotland through its sector action plan
n We need a compelling reason for businesses to locate their manufacturing operations in Scotland
n A fair and robust regulatory environment, which creates industry confidence in products manufactured in our country
n A positive and favourable taxation regime
In all of these areas, we believe that Scotland is working hard to ensure that we do all that is needed to create a positive environment for this vital sector to continue to grow and flourish. We are now bringing all parts of the sector together, we are seeing a number of partnerships developed to ensure we have the skills we need, and Scotland provides a well regulated, stable and well connected place to do business.
And at Irvine Bay, we have an important part to play, in particular through the i3 Irvine Enterprise Area created by the Scottish Government, with a focus on life sciences.
The Enterprise Area itself – based on Irvine Innovation and Industry business park and land around GlaxoSmithKline – offers life science and other businesses a range of benefits, including Business Rates Relief and Capital Allowances.
The site is well located, a little south of Glasgow and well connected by road, rail and air.
The buildings meet a high standard, sites are large and flat, and there is superb access to all services including superfast broadband and an abundance of power, drainage and waste management. GlaxoSmithKline are working with us to see how the services they already have invested in, such as waste water treatment, can be utilised to help attract businesses.
We believe we have a very strong proposition to bring to bear, to work with the sector in its broadest sense to help it develop and meet its goals. 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, the access to streamlined planning and a determination by all stakeholders to work with businesses for the benefit of all.
• Patrick Wiggins is chief executive of Irvine Bay Regeneration