This week we received inbound missions from Copenhagen, and laid plans for what Cambridge Network should do for the next year to work with the high tech community to tackle the financial crisis for the region.
Copenhagen's City Government was keen to learn how to take their lovely city of a million people, only half an hour's cycle ride from end to end, with more students than Berlin, and make it as innovative as Cambridge. I quoted them Churchill from the dark days when we received some earlier Danish visitors (who was actually quoting Brythwold, receiving yet further Danish visitors in even darker days . It isn't far from Denmark to East Anglia):
As all European nations struggle to adjust the expectations of their citizens to meet the straightened circumstances that misgovernance of financial markets have imposed on us, every region is facing this same challenge: how can we do more with less? Here in Cambridge we heard on Thursday that Vince Cable thinks our Local Enterprise Partnership should try to do just that. So we will be working with our Universities and politicians and other community groups to do the best we can with whatever funding is left. Our Danish friends, drawn from all political parties (they sat with their party comrades, amusingly) are all in the same boat.
Fortunately, in Cambridge we can do a lot. I took them round the Hauser Forum, and we stood looking out from the IdeaSpace, and I told them that a startup or incoming company can be virtually present in Cambridge for a year with desk with a view and access to all our meetings for the cost of £100 for a Cambridge Network Membership and £600 for an IdeaSpace membership (Don't all rush at once. You have to be innovative to get in!). I took them to the Cavendish Laboratory and told them how Hermann Hauser had come here at 15 to study English and wound up founding a series of billion dollar companies here. I walked them down to Robinson College chapel and told them how a boy who left school at 15 could pay for a Chagall window in a college he founded so that other state school boys like me could go to the University of Cambridge. We walked on and looked at the oldest bridge on the river Cam, and talked about Cromwell cutting those bridges to form his New Model Army with Fenland cavalry. I left them at King's College Chapel for evensong, reflecting on how the exiled son of a teenage mother gave his family symbols to Parliament and the English nation.
It is not just the Danes who have taken that walk with us, from the green fields to the glittering spires. In the last year, we've had a lot of new Founder Members (e.g. Ernst & Young, Ipso, NHS, PA, P&G, Unilever...) and 100+ Corporate Members (BP, Domino, FujiFilm, GE Energy, Hitachi, Jagex, Lloyds TSB, Red Bee, Samsung Semi, Samsung Electronics, South Cambridgeshire District, Thales, University of Essex...). A lot of folk want to participate in our cluster, hire away our best people (if you are Chinese and would like to get back to Shanghai in style, we have just the event for you on 9th November) and partner with our innovative organizations.
On Monday, we held a town hall meeting to talk about the Local Enterprise Partnership, very well attended by some of the largest employers (e.g. Addenbrookes, Anglian Water, Marshalls), biggest service providers (e.g. Birketts, Ernst & Young, Mills & Reeve, PWC, Taylor Vinters, TWI) and most significant individual stakeholders (e.g. the Registrary of the University - actually only second to Prince Philip, the Chancellor, in status within the University; the MD of Anglian Water, the largest carbon footprint in the region; many other MDs and CEOs). It proved timely because Vince Cable's announcement leaves many questions unanswered about the transition of regional government. These are serious issues for these individuals. Anglian Water has £1/2BN to spend to reduce the carbon footprint of homes in the region, and nobody to liaise with any more about how to spend it. Addenbrookes is spending £1BN building out a biomedical cluster that will employ 20,000 people and will attract the best biomedical companies in the world, and has nobody to liaise with about the broader regional impact. About the only thing that is clear is that there will be a lot less money, and we will need to find ways to finance ourselves. The LEP itself just a bid team that got lucky, and the Registrary and others volunteered kindly to help sort out our governance structures to legitimise our voice in the community. We're also answering question online through Formspring, but as usual the face-to-face questions brought out the best in this busy group of executives. Again and again the conversation turned to the international reputation of Cambridge and the personal impact of local giants like Professor Sir Richard Friend, whose inspired negotiation with Epson created our local printing cluster.
These Cambridge founders were and are all people just like us. But they had vision, and that is why they left us the legacy of a wonderful, strong, diverse, vibrant city, internationally renowned for learning and innovation. Like Hermann Hauser and unlike David Robinson, most of them were not born here. Without checking my facts (please contradict me) I would guess that none of the other Cambridge Colleges, University Departments or $1BN businesses locally were founded by people born in Cambridge (whoops! There's Abcam, David Cleevely and Jonathan Milner. Knew I'd get caught out). Mostly these people were attracted here by an idea: "Hinc lucem et pocula sacra", the idea of a University that sends out light and sacred winds. Our job in Cambridge Network is to keep more of those people around, so that Cambridge ideas can keep changing the world.
Attendee at the LEP meeting writes:
The Cambridge phenomenon is built on a rich and diverse SME and micro-SME community and the LEP must include proper affirmative action to make sure that this vital community is properly engaged with the process. Support of representative groups like the Chamber and FSB is excellent but there must be direct engagement with our innovative SMEs. For me the LEP concept is not just about getting Local Business's engaged with Local Government it is also about getting SMEs engaged with big business and local government as well. Some thought needs to be given about how SMEs can be encouraged and supported to be able to contribute effectively.
My technical expertise is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) and Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) so I am really enthused about the proposed Innovation Centre. My worry is that it is too focussed on the building industry. Would there be any possibility of a slight refocusing in line with MIT's Sensible City initiative ? One of my close associates in advising this initiative and we would be happy to get engaged in this new initiative.
Former EEDA Board Member who attended LEP meeting:
Ten observations in no order:-
1) If the LEP is to be truly business lead, then the officers MUST NOT come from local government! Their thought processes are (for good reasons) not suitable for a fast flexible low cost operation. Look to the Cambridge Network as an model.
2) If the LEP gets ANY legacy duties or staff from EEDA it will get bad publicity. (Even if I have to do it myself :)
3) The governance (voting) should be on the basis of the NUMBER OF STAFF EMPLOYED in the region, or better the payroll of the staff in the region.
4) With no national investment in infrastructure, the LEP should concentrate on increasing the value added per person in the region, rather than additional net employment. The Cambridge Sub-region in an infrastructure hole and to add workplaces and housing simply digs it deeper. This position should help focus attention of the central government! Doesn't "no one unemployed, and no one on minimum wage" make a great objective!
5) The LEP should have a strategy of recommending specialisations to towns across the region.
Peterborough - High value manufacturing and eco-tech
Huntingdon - Logistics
Kings Lynn - Food
Bury - Agriculture
Bear in mind this is only a recommendation!
6) If the LEP doesn't get the top employers in play, it has failed. Better to have them than any number of SMEs
7) Beware of the people who claim to represent SMEs, They don't! SMEs are too diverse and by definition independently minded! (comment from Matt: surely you can't mean us too! ;-))
8) Beware of Education, it competes with Training. They are different, and currently the UK does precious little of the latter, and desperately need it. The "skills shortage" isn't solved by education!
9) Over the last 20 years the Eastern Region has always been polite and played the governments game, it doesn't work! LEP has to be aggressive. Thus local authorities must be secondary players otherwise they will worry about the impact on government budgets if they were identified with 'anti-government' sentiment.
10) Try to get the elevated section of the A14 weight restricted. That would go some way to improving one piece of local infra-structure.