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Driving Devolution by Harnessing Regional Research Capacity

N8 Research Partnerships Director, Dr Annette Bramley, shares her insight on how regional research capacity can help drive devolution.


One of the most fantastic features of the North of England is its diversity.  Diversity of communities, culture and landscape.  Devolution allows local decisions to reflect the different needs of different parts of our diverse northern region.  Diversity is also fantastic for innovation.  Because of our different perspectives and experiences, the people, universities and businesses in the North of England can bring all sorts of fresh thinking to the challenges and opportunities we face.  Powers devolved to our city regions give them more ability to do what they think is best to help businesses to start and to grow, and to provide better public services.  This provides a unique opportunity to collaborate and come up with new products and services and take these to the market more quickly.  It also allows us to trial a range of approaches in different city regions, to find out what works, and to share that knowledge between our cities.

The universities of the N8 Research Partnership are also diverse, with different facilities, research groups and local partners. They create an environment where new knowledge and innovation can be generated, providing access to skills, expertise and research centres. They provide the ‘hard’ infrastructure, like buildings and facilities, that speeds up innovation and the ‘soft’ infrastructure like people and their skills, talent, creativity and trust, as well as ‘neutral’ meeting spaces. One example of where the universities of the N8 Research Partnership are working together to drive the benefits of devolution is in Policing.

The N8 Policing Research Partnership (N8 PRP) has been established to enable and foster research collaborations that will help address the problems of policing in the 21st century and achieve international excellence in policing research. The project involves 11 police forces and delivers at scale with real impact. The collaboration between our Northern universities and police forces is at the vanguard of new approaches to policing. Among other projects most recently, Lancaster and Liverpool universities, in partnership with Merseyside Police and Women’s Aid, developed a learning tool to help equip police officers with the skills to provide an improved service for victims of the complex new coercive control law which is being piloted by Merseyside Police and made available to other interested police forces and appropriate agencies. By harnessing the diverse skills, capabilities and resources across the North of England N8PRP champions high quality independent research and develops evidence to improve policing policy and practice which makes a real impact on the lives of people living in the North of England.

Another area of focus is agriculture and food.  The N8 universities are working to ensure sustainable, resilient and healthy food supplies for all. An interdisciplinary team across the universities of York, Liverpool and Manchester are collaborating to ensure our food supply chain can adapt and learn when faced with external threats/shocks.  This four-year £3.3m project includes a diverse range of people and organisations including farmers, supermarkets and their supply chains, and consumers, to bring their perspectives to this important issue for the region and the country.

The value of our universities to devolution, to the Northern Powerhouse, to rebalancing the UK economy and in acting as stable anchor institutions through changing times cannot be understated. Not only are they providers of new knowledge, innovation and skills, they are significant economic drivers, large employers, key partners of public services and leaders in local growth initiatives.  Our region also has the potential to increase significantly its research and innovation capacity in order to deliver the UK Government’s target of 2.4% GDP being invested in R&D by 2027.  Doing this, working together, we will drive productivity improvements, reduce health and wealth inequalities and deliver the aspirations of local and national Industrial Strategies.