UK Research and Innovation launches a new competitive fund to drive productivity and economic growth throughout the regions and nations of the UK.

Funded activities should bring significant, relative economic impact and regional growth relative to the baseline economic activity for the defined geographic area.

Consortia are now invited to develop and submit Expression of Interest bids to the first wave, led by research organisations or business and involving both, with strong engagement from local leadership.

UKRI Strength in Places Fund is a new place-based approach to competitive funding of research and innovation, driven by business need that can be met by existing research strengths.

The issue SIPF aims to address

The UK Government announced the Strength in Places Fund in the Industrial Strategy White Paper, published in November 2017, recognising that there are large regional disparities in economic activity leading to social inequities.

The UKRI Strength in Places Fund (SIPF) is an opportunity for UKRI to play its part in strengthening existing research excellence and high quality innovation capability, given the important role science, research and innovation play in driving productivity and economic growth throughout the regions and nations of the UK.

It forms part of the activity undertaken as part of the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) that will be contributing to the UK Government’s commitment to reach 2.4% of GDP investment in R&D by 2027.

Economic geography

Consortia bidding to SIPF will self-define the economic geography of their proposal – the realistic local scale for the cluster being supported, not constrained, by local authority or political boundaries. The size and scope of the area must match the economic geography of the supply chain or local industry that the proposal focuses on, with robust evidence provided to justify the choice of area, range of partners involved and activities proposed, aligned to appropriate local plans and strategies.

Design process

Over the last few months, detailed design work has been underway in order that the high level aims of  SIPF complement existing UK programmes, delivered by UKRI & other funders. An example is the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) which looks to address grand challenges at a national level, compared to SIPF’s focus on local economic growth, where activities are likely to bring significant, relative economic impact and regional growth.

“This first wave of SIPF has been deliberately designed to be flexible, open across all sectors and disciplines.”

The design of SIPF, a research and innovation fund, also takes into account that there are other funding streams in development, including the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, a domestic programme of investment which will boost productivity and reduce economic inequality across the country following departure from the European Union.

This first wave of SIPF has been deliberately designed to be flexible, open across all sectors and disciplines. We will support existing research excellence and high-quality innovation capability that focus on creating opportunities for economic growth, in line with the needs of local industry. We also expect proposals to consider the essential skills provision that would support the application of research and innovation activities.

Partnership approach

SIPF is a cross-Council UKRI programme, in partnership with the higher education funding bodies of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and with the Office for Students. Delivery of the fund is being led by Research England and Innovate UK.

First wave as pathfinder

In this first wave, we are running a two-stage programme – firstly an expression of interest stage, where consortia will set out plans for large collaborative proposals. Following assessment, successful bids will be selected for stage two, receiving up to £50,000 in seedcorn funding to further develop a full bid proposal of between £10 million and £50 million, running over 3 to 5 years. UKRI plan to support between 4 and 8 full stage awards in this first pathfinder wave.

We have held events throughout May and June 2018, challenging universities and research organisations to partner with businesses and produce proposals that demonstrate and evidence strong engagement with local leadership.

We look forward to working with the successful SIPF awards in the first wave, for the benefit of people right across the UK.


Rachel Tyrrell is Programme Director for the UKRI Strength in Places Fund.

This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.