The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult will have an operational centre at the National Renewable Energy Centre (NAREC) in Northumberland (credit NAREC)

Catapult Centres key to business innovation says Cable

The UK’s new network of catapult centres could help to drive business growth by commercialising innovation, Vince Cable has said.

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and president of the Board of Trade was speaking at an event discussing the measurement of success of innovation and technology centres, hosted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

A network of these elite centres, called catapult centres, is being established in the UK by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) with sponsorship from the IET, the Big Innovation Centre and the government.

Dr Cable spoke of the launch of the centres at the beginning of the coalition government, after the 2010 Hauser report on technology and innovation centres argued that the UK could transform its capacity for innovation by following the example of countries such as Germany, the USA, Taiwan and south Korea, which all have a network of these centres.

Last October the first of these institutions, the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, was launched with support from seven partners in Coventry, Bristol, Sheffield, Strathclyde, Manchester, Sedgefield and Warwick.

“Much of the inspiration behind what we’re doing has come from looking at this internationally, at international best practice and how best the UK can compete,” Dr Cable said. “We are an open country – open to foreign investment, open to foreign ideas, and I think that is one of the great strengths of this country.”

Dr Cable spoke of the importance of innovation to economic growth and living standards, arguing that “without innovation we would literally be living back in the Stone Age”.

“Economic evidence suggests two-thirds of the rise in labour productivity and living standards comes from innovation,” he said. “In the UK this is absolutely fundamental to our future.”

The Catapults were launched by the TSB after looking at the key technologies that will be crucial to the UK for the next 20 years or so, he added.

As well as the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, the centres focus on Cell Therapy, Satellite Applications, Offshore Renewable Energy, Connected Digital Economy, Transport Systems and Future Cities.

Phil Smith, the chair of the TSB, said he wanted the Catapult Centres to be recognised for excellence internationally, and that the UK needed to build partnerships with similar organisations abroad so it can access new technology developed overseas and help UK business to create partnerships with similar businesses abroad. “Catapult Centres have a very bright future,” he said. 

“We the IET are glad to help the UK catapult centres achieve success as they will make a vital connection between academic research and those working in the field,” said IET President Andy Hopper. “The aims of the catapult centres are aligned very much with the mission and the values of the IET.

“Part of our mission is to create a global knowledge network for industries and the catapult centres will aid this by offering a base for the sharing of knowledge.”

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