Exploiting our unique assets to accelerate development of a nationally significant energy cluster.
The energy-related sector forms a strategically important part of the Cheshire and Warrington economy. It comprises c900 companies, 19,000 jobs and £2.8 billion of sales per annum and includes a number of unique energy-related assets. Going forwards, it offers significant growth potential, as new technologies break, behaviours continue to change and UK energy policy imperatives become clearer. Importantly, there is also significant scope for Cheshire and Warrington to exploit synergies with emerging energy cluster development activity in neighbouring LEP areas.
Work is underway to establish whether the uniqueness of Cheshire and Warrington’s Energy sector provides a suitably strong proposition to make it our fourth ‘Strategic Intervention Priority’.
Scoping research conducted by kMatrix Ltd and Gyron LLP has revealed strong stakeholder support for a private sector-led approach to developing the energy cluster to boost collaboration, enterprise, innovation, skills development, investment, competitiveness and wealth creation.
The main objective of the energy cluster development programme would be to build on the good work of existing energy-related networks and forums (expanding the spatial and sectoral focus) in order to drive GVA, employment and productivity growth.
More specifically, three core objectives have been identified:
- Grow the size and competitiveness of the energy cluster by attracting new companies to invest here, supporting the development of existing firms, and facilitating new business formation
- Raise awareness and the profile of the energy-related cluster nationally and internationally, thus supporting skills retention / attraction
- Position Cheshire and Warrington as one of the leading UK locations for energy-related supply chain investment.
Initial thinking has identified a series of potential interventions and activities that could be delivered under an energy cluster development programme, including:
- Support for the ‘Cheshire Energy Hub’ graduate scheme
- Providing executive capacity to oversee delivery of a cluster development strategy, lobbying for the cluster (nationally/internationally), and co-ordinating regular networking/awareness raising events etc.
- Supporting firms within the cluster to develop linkages with leading energy research centres (in the UK and overseas) so as to facilitate effective knowledge exchange, innovation, high quality R&D and technology commercialisation
- Working with companies to create an ‘open innovation’ ecosystem where suppliers can collaborate to support growth amongst existing firms and new business formation is actively supported
- Undertaking a regular programme of market intelligence/foresight research to ensure that local firms share the latest thinking and technology/market trends etc.
- Developing competitive hard and soft infrastructures (including a fit for purpose skills supply-side that meets the needs of the cluster) that drive the long-term growth/competitiveness of the cluster.
Any programme will need to ensure that it is complementary to existing activity such as that delivered through the Birchwood Nuclear Forum and Nuclear Network North etc. as well as energy focused R&D activity led by the local HEI base (Universities of Chester, Liverpool and Manchester). Additionally, linkages to Britain’s Energy Coast (Cumbria) and growing energy-related agendas in the Manchester and Liverpool City Regions would be actively developed.
More generally across the UK, energy-related cluster development opportunities that present themselves through UK policy such as support for the ‘Great Eight’ technologies (e.g. energy storage etc.), the TSB Catapults (e.g. the offshore renewable energy catapult in Glasgow and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield etc.) and wider industrial policy developments including announcements relating to nuclear new-build/shale gas/renewables etc. will need to be assessed and fully understood.
At a European level, secure, clean and efficient energy supply has been identified as a key ‘grand challenge’ by the European Commission. The Cheshire and Warrington cluster would need to ensure that suitable links are established to emerging EU agendas.