What we Stand to Gain
Knowledge capital is, in many ways, a representation of our culture. It’s the networks we build and the degree to which we actively nurture original thought and challenge ideas.
Our intangible ‘stock’ of knowledge comprises the information we cultivate, while the speed at which this knowledge spreads is inextricably linked to the conversations we share.
While the Arc comprises just 5% of the UK’s landmass, it has all the innate ingredients to become one of the most technologically advanced and knowledge-intensive regions in the world. A cultural foundation of ingenuity, experimentation, and enterprise connects prestigious universities as educators and incubators of novel ideas with tens of thousands of companies commercialising research.
Public-private partnerships, like the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the Cranfield Forensic Institute (CFI), make it possible to share the advantages of large-scale demonstrative infrastructure. Clustering within science parks, towns, and city centres, at all growth stages in advanced sectors like manufacturing, life sciences and AI, provides the ideal environment to share knowledge. This recipe of culture and collaboration is precisely why the Arc has grown 25% over the last 20 years.
If the Arc absorbs almost two-thirds of total venture capital investment across the life sciences industry, and generates over £110bn in GDP every year, we ought to ask how much more ‘knowledge capital’ can be cultivated organically.
Total investment activity across the Arc reached almost £2.4bn in 2020, 56% ahead of 2019 levels, driven by a depth of demand in the Arc’s existing activity. The Arc also commands 22% of the nation’s science park floorspace, housing start-ups, industry titans, and everything in between. Is there a need to ‘supercharge’ the Arc if the region is performing well without intervention? How would this influence the culture of knowledge transfer already established in the Arc? These are questions of confidence, but also collective ambition.
Leaving the evolution of the region to its own devices is one option, though we’re fast approaching a point of saturation where the Arc’s knowledge capita formation will be shackled by the weight of its own success. Whilst the Arc has a total of some 60m sq ft of commercial office and laboratory floorspace, and innovation centres are in planning, there remains a critical under-supply of both categories as demand ration continues to decline. Because the availability rate for R&D labs in Oxford and Cambridge stood at just 6% and 4% respectively, many emerging companies have been forced to adopt a ‘make-do’ real estate strategy which will temper the potential and proliferation of fledgling start-ups.
Commercial and residential rents are also rising exponentially while employment in technology-driven sectors climbs at an unprecedented rate – 6% year-on-year – within the nuclei of the Arc.
As an idea engine, the region is only as powerful as the resources available to it. Attracting global investment, empowering a skilled workforce, creating the infrastructure to foster knowledge sharing, and providing long-term solutions which enable the interfacing of universities, investors, accelerators, and companies commercialising ground-breaking innovation, demands structural investment and policy reform.
With the right interventions, the Arc’s economic output could grow between £80bn and £250bn by 2030, creating anywhere from 500,000 to 1.1m additional jobs. More importantly, the Arc will serve as the origin of potentially world-changing innovation, with an outstanding social reach that improves lives globally.