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  • Writer's pictureEastern Powerhouse

Silicon Valley succeeded and so can the East of England - if we have a robust regional policy

Silicon Valley’s global significance relies on the ability to attract top talent, foster innovation, and create new technologies that shape our world. The East of England has the same opportunity, but we need to all hold this same ambition. Since returning to the UK after 12 years abroad, I have never felt the urgency more than right now for a unifying vision of the UK, interconnected thinking on planning, and growth models than move away from political parties and elections, but look towards generational progress.

If we genuinely want to level up the East of England by delivering a more inclusive, prosperous, and sustainable region, we need to unite around the vision of creating a ‘Silicon East’, connecting innovation clusters with interconnected industry policies. Pockets of the East are recognised globally as an exceptional opportunity for trade and investment.

However, not all the issues facing the East can be addressed at the local authority level. They require solutions at the regional and national level. They also require a radical shift in mindset, to cooperate beyond administrative boundaries, and to take a lead from business in pursuing economic agendas.

The East is home to 6.5 million people (close to Scotland and Northern Ireland combined). It is a net contributor to the Treasury and at an aggregate level, the East performs well on a number of indicators compared to other regions. The East contributes £153 billion to the UK’s national economy, it is the 4th largest - and 3rd most productive - economy in the UK. However, this performance masks underlying levels of deprivation, in terms of low skills, low incomes, and poor health, as well as a number of structural issues that are holding back the region’s potential for growth. For example, closing the productivity gap between the East and the Southeast would add £31bn to the national economy each year.

Decades of underinvestment mean that transport infrastructure has become one of the biggest barriers to growth. Getting around the East is slow, unreliable, and inefficient. Productivity levels are held back by limited rail connections, and a struggling bus network. The East of England needs a modern, integrated transport system that forges closer links between villages, towns, and cities, connecting to the rest of the country – and beyond. Unlocking this investment has the potential to support the Government's overall UK levelling up agenda, which will enable the creation of hundreds of thousands of well-paid, skilled jobs across the region, especially in deprived parts of the country.

Closing the productivity gap and rebalancing the regional economy cannot happen without addressing the divide in skills and education. This will require comprehensive, targeted investment in future generations, as well as the working age population. Lifelong learning – to reskill and upskill – will be increasingly required in the emerging economy. A good foundation for skills training – whether this is via a vocational, technical, or academic route – is key to unlocking growth.

The East is at the vanguard of new sectors and industries, including life sciences, advanced engineering and manufacturing, agritech, renewable and low carbon energy. With a massive offshore windfarm economy and some of the largest solar farms in the UK, we are already taking advantage of the natural resources here to create a sustainable future. Investment in the green economy is not only an opportunity for local businesses it will enable the whole economy to be more resilient to external ‘energy shocks’ and keep UK businesses competitive in a global market.

‘A Silicon East’ must be more than a nice-sounding phrase. Interconnected policy; forward-thinking/supportive government with a regional vision, combined with proximity to top global universities, a culture of innovation, and a highly skilled workforce is the reason the Silicon Valley became the centre of the global economy. Just like the region in Northern California, the East of England has the same opportunity. We must strive for polycentric growth, allowing the entire region to thrive economically and sustainably, by connecting our coastal towns, rural villages, and world-class cities.

I believe the Eastern Powerhouse working with partners can be the vehicle to deliver this vision, and to compete with other regions like London, the North and the Midlands, to get the attention of government and make the case for the right level of investment across all communities in the East of England.

I believe the exceptional strength of the East is understanding that business is local, but our reach can be global.


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