How to keep life sciences flourishing

The environment has rarely been better to achieve the vision of a blossoming life sciences sector. Picture: Donald MacLeod
The environment has rarely been better to achieve the vision of a blossoming life sciences sector. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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Partnership will let the sector grow, writes Patrick Wiggins

A partnership approach in south-west Scotland promises to help a key business sector develop to meet its full potential to create jobs and wealth.

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 added value to the economy every year. The Scottish Government’s aim is to see the sector double that turnover by 2020.

The debate in recent years has revolved around how to turn our world-leading research base into jobs through developing manufacturing. Nowadays, that debate is becoming ever more finely tuned and I am delighted that Irvine Bay is playing its part.

Turning that national know-how into employment and opportunities is why Irvine Bay Regeneration Company was the sponsor of this year’s Scotsman Conference on “Life Sciences in Scotland; Realising the Manufacturing Potential.”

It’s an ambition to upscale output that everyone seems to share, from the Scottish Government, represented at the conference by Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who is also Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth; to government and public sector agencies, universities who often create the knowledge; and to our private sector and investors.

Everyone also agrees that the environment has rarely been better to achieve the vision of a blossoming life sciences sector: Scotland has excellent skills, from research to process manufacturing; Scotland benefits from a positive tax regime and supportive government agencies; Scotland’s rigorous regulatory system is a benefit for businesses looking to enter markets around the world.

At Irvine Bay we are well placed to play a positive role. i3 is our innovation and industry park at Irvine which includes an enterprise area with a focus on life sciences. There is a significant history and tradition in the sector in the area. Alfred Nobel made his fortune on the coast in North Ayrshire, and we have a number of global companies operating in our area, including GlaxoSmithKline, DSM, Sigma Aldrich, Vogel and several others. So we have the skills, particularly in manufacturing.

But through the enterprise area we can offer a lot more – at i3 and also land around GlaxoSmithKline we can help life science and other businesses access a range of benefits, including business rates relief and capital allowances.

Our one-stop approach under the Team North Ayrshire banner allows us to work with businesses in a streamlined way, advising on issues as diverse as planning and supply chain.

Partnerships are vital – none more than the very positive relationship we enjoy with GlaxoSmithKline. GSK continues to invest significantly in its site at Irvine, and develop its own infrastructure including water and solvent treatments, gases, and infrastructure. The company also wants to ensure it delivers “green pharma” and is developing renewable energy at the site through biomass and wind turbine.

GSK is positive about sharing these facilities with firms who want to locate at the site, and dialogue with a number of companies is ongoing.

The site is well located, a little south of Glasgow, we are an integral part of the Glasgow BioCorridor, and we are well connected by road, rail and air.

The buildings meet a high standard, sites are large and flat, and there is superb access to services including superfast broadband, 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 attract firms.

Our holistic approach has extended to local schools. We have a partnership with the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and they use their expertise to deliver an innovative programme entitled “Talks Science” to 100 schools in our area, inspiring young people to see science as a potential career.

How does all of this translate into action? We have already created or refurbished 200,000sq ft of business space with 100,000sq ft let and a further 100,000 sq ft under offer. We are working onsite to develop the infrastructure to support another 1 million square feet, and we are dealing with 29 live enquiries. More than £100 million of capital has been committed by the private sector. And last, but by no means least, 350 jobs have been attracted to i3.

Patrick Wiggins is chief executive of Irvine Bay Regeneration Company