5 April, 2013 - 11:34 By Tony Quested

Cambridge and London tech clusters go it alone

The self sufficiency of the Cambridge and London technology clusters is apparent from details released by the UK government today on bids received under the new £350 million regional growth funding pot.

Of all the regions of the UK, the least number of projects and lowest bid amounts are from London at the foot of the table and the East of England, which is second bottom.

No doubt the ‘visionaries’ who scrapped regional development agencies in a bid to address what the Tories called a North-South opportunity divide will be delighted to see the North West out in front of the queue with the begging bowl, hotly followed by the Yorkshire and Humber and South West regions.

Nick Clegg and Vince Cable trumpeted the fact that 309 applications for the new £350 million funding pot had been received. They said it demonstrated a strong business appetite for government cash – not in these parts, it doesn’t.

Collectively the UK bidders are asking for £1.88 billion so clearly the majority are in for a major disappointment. Or the Government will do exactly what it shouldn’t do – scattergun smaller amounts across the largest number of projects and programmes rather than pumping big money into one or two real gamechangers that represent stand-out opportunities to create lots of jobs and commercialise the most important science and technology.

London business enterprises have submitted only one programme and five projects – bids together worth just £32m – two per cent of the total UK ask. East of England businesses have submitted two programmes and 11 projects, collectively valued at £47m – four per cent of the total UK ask.

So the two strongest economic heartlands of the UK, dynamic but disillusioned, are going it alone. And once again the Government is weaning the weak instead of feeding the strong and incentivising them to nurture the weak.

Feedback from companies in the Cambridge technology cluster repeatedly throws up the same response: ‘Small amounts of government funding won’t get us where we need to go – and, anyway, we can’t afford the wait.’

So they stick with the VCs and business angels who understand the pressures inherent in commercialising science & technology fast before a window of opportunity slams shut.

The regional growth fund applications, far from being a green light for growth, are actually a red alert. They evidence a vast chasm between how businesses are really funded and achieve growth and the Government’s perception of the commercial world.

The parlous state of the national economy ought to demonstrate that the debate has moved far beyond a North v South, East v West agenda. This is not about geographic boundaries.

Strong economic management is surely about championing and funding the best universities, the best businesses, the most enterprising entrepreneurs regardless of whether they are located in Pudsey or Pratt’s Bottom.

It is high time for government by inside knowledge rather than government by gazetteer.

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