Sir Roger Marsh has over 40 years of experience working in the North of England, in both public and private sector organisations. Most recently he has been appointed as a Senior Business and Strategy Adviser to Squire Patton Boggs, a leading global law firm with northern offices in Leeds and Manchester.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
Having studied metallurgy at the University of Leeds in the 1970s I then decided to join Price Waterhouse (PwC) and became a Chartered Accountant. I then spent the next three decades in business recovery / turn. As such, I have experienced the north of England over many years and seen its transformation, not in a good way, from a textile and engineering powerhouse in the 1950s to what it is today. In 2007-2009 I found myself in the heart of government having been seconded as Director General of Strategic Finance and Operations in the Cabinet Office working directly to the Cabinet Secretary, now Lord O’Donnell.
This was a massive period of change in the UK and I thought to myself, what is going to happen to the north of England? We knew what was happening but not what the future looked like! On retirement from PwC, I was asked to Chair the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, which was a key investment vehicle for the area. This was followed by the Coalition Government undertaking a number of Science and Innovation audits around the country and Leeds City Region was chosen as one. This showed me how strong the area was in medtech and other life science related areas. By way of example, four out of the five operational elements of the NHS are headquartered in Leeds and 22 per cent of the health technology jobs in the UK are in the North of England.
Where do you see the North of England in the wider UK Life Sciences market?
I like to call the North of England the Platinum Polygon (Oxford, Cambridge and London are called the Golden Triangle) and I do so as platinum is as valuable if not more so than gold and, in the north, our focus is not just based on the three locations of the Golden Triangle. As Sir John Bell wrote in the UK Government’s life sciences vision as part of the post pandemic ‘Build Back Better’, “life sciences will be one of the great drivers of growth in the 21st Century. Through innovation and technological advances we will diagnose, treat, cure, and prevent a much wider range of disease than is currently possible.” Therefore, the prize in terms of economic growth and human health is substantial. The UK is ideally positioned to compete successfully, which is why the economy of the North of England is critical to achieving success nationally.
The four areas of opportunity I believe will add significantly to the UK's economy, let alone as a consequence benefit the north, are around advanced therapies, infectious diseases, diagnostics and medtech, and data and AI. In the North of England, we must not lose sight of the strengths in these areas we already have and the wider opportunities that exist to the area. In 2018, the Northern Health Science Alliance produced a report about health for wealth and, because of the relatively poor social conditions across the north due to underinvestment for decades, how there's a consequent loss of productivity. This loss compared to the UK average is an equivalent to five per cent of the North's economy. Based on the North economy being about £400 billion, then you are talking about £20 billion a year of lost opportunity for underperformance. The opportunity for public money priming of around £250 million to invest in life sciences in the North of England would yield double digits in billions of economic growth and huge social impact as a result over the next three decades.
The opportunity for this is significant as the tax revenues versus the costs of public services is running at a deficit of a billion pounds a week. If you can increase economic activity, as measured by productivity, to the national average, you would add some £20 billion a year to the economy in the North.
Are there any specific challenges that exist in the North of England that are holding back your view on where Life Sciences could be?
This is a two to three decades project and political cycles are much shorter. In business we don’t say a week is a long time, but in politics they do! The ideal scenario is when the government supports and empowers the north to contribute more and decide which sectors to invest in. This is where devolution helps. In business and government, a lot of decisions are made on a multiplier, typically a benefit cost ratio between two and three times to one. We're talking about something that's four times that and we all know that technology innovation is key to the future.
So, what do you want for the economy if you want it to be a net contributor? The formula is quite simple in that you need to make sure that the pound the taxpayer puts on the table is matched by at least four from the private sector. And by doing that over time, as we proved with Leeds City Region, you will become a net contributing economy.
The main concern for me is our country’s current financial state and how quickly we can make lasting changes. Keep in mind that the last time our public finances were this strained compared to the economy was back in 1961.
Where has the Industrial Strategy that Theresa May talked about gone? The notion of the industrial strategies was actually a sound one and then it disappeared. It's interesting that the Labour Opposition is talking about the need for an industrial strategy, where there's a principle that you look at the whole of the UK and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This could mean focusing on specific projects in different parts of an area's economy, rather than trying to do the same thing everywhere.
I also think we need to ensure that that both our physical and our digital connectivity is fit for the 22nd century, not barely adequate for the 21st century. I feel history will judge that in the long term we should have taken decisive action.
How competitive or complementary are the major cities in the North of England when it comes to attracting investors, operators and scientists?
We aim to be both genuinely competitive and cooperative, rather than just appearing cooperative for the sake of appearances. In terms of specific strengths, Leeds excels in life sciences, having a history of innovation in medical devices, diagnostics, and health data. Other parts of the North have complementary and overlapping strengths. For example, Liverpool specialises in tropical medicine and pharmaceuticals.
If the North were a country on its own, it would be the 21st largest economy in the world and that’s with all the challenges that exist. With investment in life sciences in the North of England there is huge potential to generate economic and social impact in a significant part of the UK and deliver significant benefit to the rest of the UK. The UK needs the North of England to become a life sciences superpower of global importance.