GCGP: Sustainable economic growth – Neil Darwin

The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership (GCGP) has been working hard to make the UK region one of the fastest-growing centres for business and innovation in the country. Interim chief executive Neil Darwin discusses why businesses are increasingly choosing it for R&D centres, as well as for head offices.

Last year's announcement that pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca had chosen to invest $500 million in the construction of a new research and development facility in Cambridge, UK, and that it would be moving its global headquarters from London to Cambridgeshire in 2016, was big news, not only for the corporate world but also for the region.

Neil Darwin of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership (GCGP), a business-led partnership responsible for economic growth, says that the news was just one of many recent success stories for the region he works to promote.

"AstraZeneca was thinking of attracting a purely global market, which makes sense; it was looking at China, the US and other parts of Europe," he says. "And it took the decision that the best way to do this was to be close to the biomedical cluster around Cambridge.

"The company's VP said that setting up in this area helps cement some already really important relationships - building around research, academia and healthcare."

Many others choose the area for its reputation, says Darwin, and much of it is derived from its proximity to the University of Cambridge. Companies are keen to capitalise on the prestige of one of the world's leading centres of learning and research.

"The investment in Cambridge in the past few years is really R&D-based, and everything that comes along with the university," Darwin continues. "Having a Cambridge postcode brings a huge amount of credibility - everyone's heard of the place.

"On top of that, we've got fast-growing businesses, a highly skilled workforce and good housing growth to support economic progress."

Great minds

Proximity to the university means that companies can be close to numerous world-leading centres of research, but also guarantees their employees a high quality of life, Darwin argues, with Cambridge and Peterborough connected by a network of market towns.

"AstraZenaca was looking to bring 2,000 staff here, which brings it back to quality of life," he adds. "We've got the right types of schools and the right housing.

"If you look at The Sunday Times top 100 places to live, we've currently got five places listed, with Cambridge second. It is this diversity of city and rural living that makes our area so attractive."

Darwin admits some of the area is a little more expensive than many of its competitors, with prices closer to that of London in Cambridge, but believes that the strength of the region makes the extra costs worthwhile.

"You'll find plenty of businesses that want to pay the premium to be in the knowledge pool and have that reputation, but also plenty that take advantage of surrounding developements in the GCGP area." he argues.

The right incentive

The region is also rich in financial incentives for business owners thinking of making the move. Darwin points to the Alconbury Enterprise Campus, the second-largest enterprise zone in the country, which offers a diverse range of incentives - from big discounts for new businesses setting up there to superfast broadband.

Also available, he adds, is the area's generous grants to companies working in Agri-Tech - with up to £3.2 million available from the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, to support the development and delivery of new technology.

In the right region

In addition to the AstraZenaca success story, the region is seeing numerous businesses - particularly SMEs - setting up shop - from TWI to Palm Paper, to a potential saké business.

GCGP is now working its submissions for 'Round 2 Growth Deal' funding from the government, and is focusing on making the area even more appealing to investors by improving infrastructure and housing.

"We're improving the A428, and that's a big ticket item; another project we're working on is affordable housing to support key workers," Darwin says. "We're working on rail improvement and innovation centres, so hopefully we will land some of that to keep momentum going.

"This part of the country is always going to grow - it's about making sure we grow the right way."

Interim chief executive Neil Darwin.