The smart specialisation priorities adopted by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) were preceded by an analytical report that was completed in December 2013. The team that produced this report was led by Newcastle Science City - an economic development partnership vehicle between Newcastle University and Newcastle City Council. It also involved researchers from two parts of the University - the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies and the Business School - and a consultancy firm (Innovation Bubble). The analysis of the economic strengths of the region’s economy in this report identified the four areas of activity that have become the smart specialisation priorities of NELEP. This is therefore a good practice example of a university supplying the analytical capabilities that at the time (when NELEP was still in the early stages of becoming operational) were lacking in the relevant regional development agency.
NELEP has recently set up working groups relating to each of the four smart specialisation priorities that were adopted from the Areas of Economic Activity identified in the smart specialisation report produced by Newcastle University and partners. The make-up of these groups are based on a ‘triple helix’ principle of members from the government, private and academic sectors. Across the four working groups there is representation from Newcastle University as well as the three other universities in the region. These groups will aim to identify more specific priorities in their respective domain and make recommendations for the strategy to develop that area. This recent addition to the governance structure of NELEP is on top of the existing Innovation Board (which sits underneath the main LEP board and in parallel to a Business Growth Board and Employment & Skills Board).
The project team for the report drew on previous research and studies to identify actual or potential economic strengths in the North East that had a good fit with: national industrial and innovation priorities, the initial strategic interests of NELEP, and evidence of public and private investment (Fisher et al., 2013, p.18). This led to the selection of four Areas of Economic Activity – passenger vehicle manufacture; subsea and offshore technology; life sciences and healthcare; and creative, digital, software, and technology based services. These four areas were then subject to further analysis through desk-based research, secondary data, semi-structured interviews and workshops, and a business survey. Feedback was also sought from the four universities in the region covered by NELEP. The four areas selected as smart specialisation priorities correspond, to a large extent, with research strengths in these four universities. Newcastle University, as a diverse research-intensive university, can potentially make significant contributions in all four areas, particularly life sciences and healthcare, and subsea and offshore technology.