The cupboard is seemingly bare, but here’s what I would wish for in the Witty Review

So we had the Wilson Review, the Heseltine Review and now the Witty Review. All these reports covered economic growth, and university and business relationships. It is unlikely there will be the fireworks of large funding announcements when the box is opened on 17 October, so what should we expect?

The roadshows and preliminary report gives us some hints. We have a national industrial strategy to build on, significant research strengths and a knowledge base that can be a crucial asset for business competitiveness.

But how can we develop local plans to support national strategy and how do we create opportunities for local areas to collaborate and join up when it makes sense to do so? The resources for each LEP are highly variable, UK funding is restricted but there are opportunities for leveraging European cash through Smart Specialisation – places assessing and building on genuine sectorial strengths.

If I had a “Witty” wish list, here would be my top 6:

1) Universities can provide rigour, independence, leadership and capacity to write local plans and strategies, but they need to be resourced to do so.

2) European Structural Funding is difficult to get and difficult to use – looking at possibilities on capital schemes, as some of our European partners favour, would help maximise impact and minimise transaction costs.

3) We need clear mechanisms and incentives to support growth opportunities that are greater than one single LEP area, for example those detailed in the Industrial Strategy. These may require national leadership or co-ordination across regions to build on key areas of strength. Universities can increase their role to lead and deliver economic growth, and together with LEPs, need to be resourced and incentivised to do that.

4) Better alignment of funding schemes – it is very difficult to twin track applications to access and maximise different pots of money. This could be aligning European with national funds, or co-ordinating ERDF funds across more than one region (N8 tried and failed in 2010 due to high coordination costs of accessing the same funding through 3 different funding processes). We need to make it much easier for universities to deliver larger programmes with scale, rather than a shopping list of smaller, pepper-pot projects.

5) Boost the implementation and delivery capacity – a great idea does not always equal a great outcome. To develop local schemes and spend these funds wisely, knowledge of economic development, strong technical and project management expertise is required.

6) Time – for arrangements to bed in and for relationships to form. As a group of N8 universities we know it takes time to be able to work together and collaborate – you can’t write trust into a contract. We need to work with the structures that we have, and boost and resource the capacity within them to create the jobs and growth our economies need.