The Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) and the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Centre (AMRC) located on it have received much policy attention in recent years. The AMP is not an industrial estate for mass production, but a site for experimental research and the development of prototypes. Big multinationals including Boeing and McLaren have operations on the site, and the research outputs in the AMP are disseminated across the AMRC’s network to firms in other parts of the UK who pay a membership fee.
Unlike many other places that badge themselves as advanced manufacturing parks, the AMP is actually a place of advanced manufacturing work. 66 per cent of all jobs on the AMP are in advanced manufacturing, compared to 4 per cent across Sheffield City Region. Land on the AMP is also much more expensive than industrial land elsewhere in Sheffield City Region and across the rest of England, indicating that the site is in high demand from manufacturing firms.
The creation of the park has helped the city-region’s economy to move from an economy of low-cost production into a centre of knowledge production, with its activities being much more high-skilled than many of the manufacturing jobs in Sheffield City Region.
That said, it’s important not to overplay the impact that the park has had. It isn’t a very large part of Sheffield City Region’s economy, accounting for 500 advanced manufacturing private sector jobs. This is only 3 per cent of all of Sheffield City Region’s advanced manufacturing jobs.
But its benefits aren’t just contained in the local area. While the research breakthroughs occur on the park itself, the benefits of these innovations are felt well beyond the city region. For instance, the AMRC has helped improve the efficiency of production lines for Rolls-Royce in Sunderland and Airbus in Broughton in North Wales.
And this raises an interesting question about how these types of public sector interventions should be funded. For the Government, the AMRC is a clear national asset, and the Industrial Strategy’s role should be to help manufacturing firms from across the country benefit from the knowledge that is produced in the place of the AMP. The AMRC has required £140m of Government and European funding to reach its current position, and if needed, the Government should evaluate whether further national funding is necessary.
The role of local government, and the purpose of the local industrial strategy, should not be to shoulder the whole cost of the intervention. Instead it should focus on facilitating the operation of the park through planning and transport interventions, and in diffusing the AMP’s benefits across Sheffield City Region’s economy.
The example of the AMP shows once again the importance of place in fostering innovation. But it also highlights the lack of clarity between the respective roles that local and national government should play when it comes to making interventions of this type. Who has accountability for place-based policy matters if we are going to maximise the economic benefits of R&D for everyone.