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  • Writer's pictureResPublica

Skills, Innovation, Infrastructure - Addressing the three big challenges

The UK is facing a pressing economic challenge. After a decade of slow growth and rising inequalities, the situation has been worsened by the impact of Covid, adjustments to the UK’s exit from Europe, and runaway inflation, as the nation battles rising costs and falling growth.

The Eastern Powerhouse is holding its Conference on 23rd February, to discuss how the East of England can lead the growth agenda, to reduce the UK’s regional divides, and unlock growth.

The region has the 4th largest economy in the UK, with leading businesses in key sectors and many world-class economic assets, that can meet looming societal challenges and drive productivity. Yet the region could achieve so much more. With the right institutional arrangements, and appropriate level of Government support, the East can focus and harness its talent to lever investment and connect areas of opportunity and potential.

To achieve this, the region must deliver on the three big challenges that threaten to hold back growth in the East – Skills, Innovation, and Infrastructure.


The distribution of high level skills are critically important to economic performance but the UK has fallen behind many international competitors, especially in higher technical and vocational skills that directly contribute to productivity. At the same time, the East of England lags the UK in the proportion of working aged people with a higher level qualification, with widening differences in skill levels and educational attainment across the region.

  • How can these disparities be addressed to fix deepening labour shortages and widening skill gaps across a range of regional businesses?

  • What is the role of employers and education providers in helping to align skills provision with the needs of the regional economy?


The East of England is at the vanguard of new science and technology industries, including life sciences, green energy, agritech, and information technology. These knowledge-intensive and innovation-led sectors are key drivers of long-term productivity growth.

R&D funding in these industries is critical to increasing prosperity through the adoption of new products and services, and the creation of higher-wage jobs. But the uneven distribution of innovation and economic gains can potentially widen regional inequalities. Increasing public and private investment for R&D, universities and other research institutions is therefore a crucial element in boosting innovation in the East of England.

  • What do the region’s leading sectors need to drive innovation?

  • Will a regional industrial strategy enable innovation and growth?

  • How can the benefits of this productive growth be shared across the region?


Infrastructure investment has a vital role in economic growth. It can enable the creation of tens of thousands of well-paid, skilled jobs across some of the most deprived parts of the region. Yet decades of underinvestment in the East means essential development in transport, housing, broadband, energy, and health lag behind the Greater South-East. Transport is perhaps the most visible indicator of how limited infrastructure is holding back growth in the region.

A spatial strategy for the whole region is needed to guide investment in infrastructure that can connect places - villages, towns, and cities - and grow the regional economy as part of an integrated and coherent industrial strategy. These should be intrinsically linked to an overarching growth agenda for the East.

  • Can a Spatial Strategy guide infrastructure investment and improve how the region functions as a whole?

  • What is needed to optimise transport and increase digital connectivity?

  • How can the region take advantage of the natural resources and assets to create green energy and a sustainable future?

Join us at the EPH Conference on Thursday 23rd February in Cambridge, to discuss with experts, businesses, and policymakers on what we can do to address these challenges on a regional level.


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