WARNINGS have been sounded over future funding for the science group hoping to create more than £60m of jobs in the North East.
The Newcastle Innovation Machine, set up in 2009 to bring experts to Tyneside and help them create high-tech firms, has been hailed as providing a chance to boost the region’s economy in an independent evaluation of its success.
Consultants at Brighthouse say the Newcastle Science City project could see firms created or supported by the Innovation Machine bring some £62m to the region by 2013 – if the project survives that long.
They warn that cash for the flagship Newcastle Science City scheme has not yet been secured past next year, meaning Government hopes of building up a strong private sector in the North East would face an even bigger challenge.
The Innovation Machine sees researchers paid to create a firm during a six-month stint at Newcastle Science City’s Gallowgate offices.
Those firms are then expected to grow and create jobs, while repaying the cash if possible.
It also sees help and tailored support offered to established firms.
But Government cuts and a decision to scrap main funder One North East has already seen a recruitment freeze enforced and raised question marks over the project’s long-term hopes.
While nearly 200 firms have been supported, only 11 have actually set up from scratch, with mixed results so far.
The report’s authors say many of the benefits of the Science City flagship project have yet to materialise, although they remain confident of significant achievements.
“The Newcastle Innovation Machine is attracting high calibre, high potential people to the region and creating businesses that would not exist here otherwise,” it adds. But the financial warnings are made clear: “Large chunks of public funding will be harder to secure, therefore Newcastle Science City will need to evidence the impact and benefit of the Innovation Machine activities to a wider range of partners, public and private, to secure funding for beyond March 2012.”
The report’s authors also hailed departing chief executive Peter Arnold, who announced his decision to leave Science City last month as a series of cuts raised doubts over the future level of activity and achievements.
Dr Arnold was praised for “providing strong and visionary leadership” and bringing a “just do it attitude” to the project.
His success was partly put down to him being “seen as being outside of the ‘local mafia’ – bringing a fresh perspective rather than the baggage of many years’ experience in the North East’s public sector”.
Paul Walker, chairman of Newcastle Science City, said: “This report recognises the unique approach the partnership is taking to ensure Newcastle fulfils its potential as a science city and demonstrates the potential economic and social impact of the work Newcastle Science City is delivering.”