Shock at Scotland’s showing in innovation survey

Professor Stephen Roper led the research into UK's most innovative areas
Professor Stephen Roper led the research into UK's most innovative areas
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Scotland’s rate of innovation is lagging behind many other parts of the UK and is risking the nation’s long-term economic prospects, a study has claimed.

The report from the Enterprise Research Centre (ERC), a partnership between five business schools at universities including Strathclyde, found the UK has a clear “arc of innovation” stretching from Cambridge through the south east Midlands, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

‘These findings will require further research to explain them’

Prof Stephen Roper

But south west Scotland, including Glasgow, is ranked 35th, the north east and Highlands & Islands, including Aberdeen and Inverness 39th, and eastern Scotland including Edinburgh is ranked 43rd – third from bottom in the UK league table.

The lowly placing of the capital is at odds with a report earlier this year which identified Edinburgh as Scotland’s hi-tech hotspot based on the number of digital companies growing by a third in three years.

Professor Stephen Roper, who led the research for the ERC, admitted that Scotland’s poor showing was unexpected and was something that required further investigation.

“The finding that the key economic regions of Scotland showed lower rates of innovation activity than elsewhere was surprising and one that will require further research to determine why this could be,” he said.

Jim Watson, innovation & enterprise services director for Scottish Enterprise, said significant focus was being placed on improving Scotland’s innovation performance with the aim of equalling the best performing nations by 2020.

“Over the next three years we’ll be helping 2,400 Scottish companies reap the benefits of innovation in their businesses, contributing to an additional £700 million to £850m turnover. We’re also looking for companies to invest an additional £500-600m into R&D,” he said.

The findings of the ERC, whose advisory board includes Professor John Anderson, chief executive at the Entrepreneurial Exchange in Scotland, is based on analysis of six key indicators of innovation, ranging from new products being brought to market, to collaboration and research and development (R&D) ­activity.

It has analysed data from 14,000 firms which responded to the UK Innovation Survey 2013, relating to their innovation activity over the period 2010-2012.

Roper said firms’ ability to innovate played an important role in sustaining growth and competitiveness, with major economic implications.

“For the first time, this research gives us a picture of which localities of the UK have the highest proportion of firms introducing new products and services. The findings run counter to the dominant narrative of a country dependent on London, with innovation being much more dispersed across the country than was previously thought.

“Innovation is strongly linked to growth, exporting and productivity – all areas in which the UK economy needs to improve if we want to boost our international competitiveness.

“The significant variation between different parts of the UK suggests that some localities are succeeding in creating a more innovation-friendly environment than others.”

Roper said policymakers and researchers need to examine the local factors that could be contributing to this variation so that the right conditions can be created for firms to become more innovative in every corner of 
the UK.