Businesses require ‘renewed focus on science and innovation’.

05th June 2019

Businesses require 'renewed focus on science and innovation'

The chief executive of a specialist tax consultancy has called for a renewed focus on science and innovation to enable Northern businesses to compete on a global level.

Launched in 2008, Catax has a portfolio of 14,000 clients nationwide which it serves from five offices.


Mark Tighe, the founder and chief executive of the company, said the Northern Powerhouse initiative provided the opportunity for the North’s cities to work together to “create a really powerful economic unit that can compete on a global level”, but suggested more concrete development were needed.

“Five years on from when George Osborne first coined the phrase, we’ve seen a lot of discussion on what it means and how it might work but very little action,” he said. “The only concrete piece of progress is the creation of Transport for the North (TfN).

“The Northern Powerhouse idea was originally founded on four key pillars — transport; devolution; science and innovation; and culture. However, since then the whole debate and focus seems to have shifted entirely to transport and the election of metro mayors.

“It is true that a more efficient infrastructure joining up the cities of the North is vital if they are to work together successfully. The current public transport links are patchy, slow and unreliable so investment in better train and road networks overseen by a single entity, TfN would be a positive step.

“The metro mayors may also provide a greater voice for certain northern cities but they also highlight how fragmented the North is. One voice representing the Northern Powerhouse to the rest of the world might be more effective.”

Tighe said that an equal focus on driving science and innovation needed to be restored for businesses of the North to continue to thrive and remain competitive.

“In 2016, the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review identified the four most important sectors for the North as energy, digital, health innovation and advanced manufacturing,” he said. “These are all industries with innovation at their core, which must continually invest in developing new technologies, systems and products if they are to remain successful.

To support the continued growth of these key industries and others, northern policy makers should look at ways to incentivise greater investment in research and development (R&D), and this could involve localised tax, property and regulatory benefits.

“As a Manchester-based firm that specialises in working with innovative companies to help them claim R&D tax credits, we know just how many amazing innovative businesses there are in the Northern Powerhouse area. This year alone, we have worked with 1,206 companies in the North West to claim back an average of £52,000 per tax relief claim for their R&D work.”

Tighe set out a number of measures that could help these businesses scale up more effectively and look beyond UK borders.

He said: “More joined up policy making across all the Northern Powerhouse areas and better communication of what the North has to offer on the international stage, is what will have the biggest impact and attract the most investment.

“Improved connectivity between the Northern Powerhouse cities and greater regulatory and financial support for science and innovation would then drive delivery.

“Keeping and attracting more skilled graduates from northern universities and other employees in the region is also key.

“UK business investment has slowed in the last 18 months and we lag well behind many of our European counterparts on R&D investment, spending just 1.1 per cent of GDP compared to more than 3 per cent in Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Germany. Enabling the Northern Powerhouse to achieve its economic potential could go a long way towards addressing this.”

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