Latest News

Science and Innovation Audit confirms UK digital economy is driven by the southern England


  • Innovation South shown to be powerhouse of world class research and innovation in digital enabling technologies
  • Outstanding track record for turning research into commercial products
  • Region has the largest share of foreign investment projects in the UK - second only to London
  • Innovation South a significant asset to the UK economy, complementing Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine

A new government sponsored Science and Innovation Audit (SIA) has revealed that the South of England – Innovation South, is the backbone of UK’s digital economy. Stretching from Dorset to Kent and from Berkshire to the Isle of Wight, Innovation South covers eight counties across southern England, with a total economic output of £225.3 billion, accounting for 13.7% of UK’s economic output.

The audit report released by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), presented evidence to illustrate that the Innovation South area is at the forefront of advances in digital innovations across a wide range of industrial sectors that can transform and improve our daily lives – from augmented reality devices which help train surgeons doing knee replacements to robotic submarines that are helping to combat global warming; from driverless shuttle buses to some of the fastest growing creative digital communities.

Dr Mike Short CBE, Vice President Telefonica, Europe and Chairman of the Innovation South Strategic Steering Group said:

"The Science & Innovation Audits are very important to uncover underlying sector strengths in our huge region, and to identify opportunities for better collaboration and sustainable growth across the UK.

“Now that our Audit is complete, our primary focus is on following up with pragmatic steps to progress our partnership and implement the recommendations of the Audit. We are confident that with the great support we have had from Industry, Universities, and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP), we can build on the Audit to maximise opportunities for our region in the future."

SIA demonstrates that Innovation South stands out in the UK for its expertise across a range of digital enabling technologies, including 5G, Cyber security, Big Data, Photonics and Quantum. The region’s strengths in digital enabling technologies, are commercially applied across four sectors, which include Connected Digital, Marine and Maritime, Bioscience and Advanced Engineering. The result is a high growth, high value and a highly successful knowledge-based regional economy, with outstanding potential for further innovation and growth - if all assets are successfully integrated.

Innovation South is a national asset, attracting many global corporations to locate their UK and European headquarters. The economic area has the largest share of foreign direct investment projects in the UK, outside of London, with a robust export performance supported by strong links to London and international markets via Channel Tunnel in Kent, Heathrow, Gatwick and Southampton airports, as well as the Port of Southampton. The audit recommends that sustaining the success of Innovation South, and driving its innovation-led productivity even further, is critical to the success of the UK’s digital economy and the nation’s competiveness in global markets

Business Minister Lord Prior said:

“The Science and Innovation Audits we are publishing today highlight the innovative strengths in regions across the UK and the significant growth and investment opportunities they present.

“Together with our record investment of an additional £4.7 billion for research and development to 2020/21, we are working closely with regional businesses and partners to ensure the ambitions set out in these reports are delivered to maintain our status as a science powerhouse.”

Innovation South is one of eight science and innovation audits across the UK. They have been commissioned by BEIS to help inform government’s investment decisions based on established areas of regional strengths that may stimulate productivity and economic growth. The SIA report from Innovation South can be downloaded online here -

Summary SIA reports on other region in the UK, published by the Government can be accessed here –


For more information and enquiries regarding Innovation south contact:

Sue Littlemore, Lead Project Manager, Innovation South.

07802 933631


For media enquiries contact:

Toju Ogbe



Editor’s notes:

About Innovation South Consortium

The Science and Innovation Audit for Innovation South was conducted by an Enterprise M3-led consortium of more than 100 organisations including six Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP), 16 Universities, 17 research institutes, nine local authorities, three inward investment organisations, two local area partnerships and a wide array of businesses located within the region. The audit was carried out over a four month period, under the guidance of a Strategic Steering Group Chaired by Dr Mike Short CBE, Vice President Telefonica, Europe, and Chairman of Enterprise M3 LEP Board.   

What are Digital Enabling Technologies?

Digital communications – including fifth generation (5G) wireless communications enabling a step change in the capacity, speed, stability and potential for innovation of internet systems.

The world-leading 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC), at the University of Surrey, is the largest open innovation centre for 5G development worldwide and a valuable asset to the UK.

Cyber security – the protection of data from theft, damage or disruption. Arguably, the single largest challenge for the world’s growing digital economy.

Information Security Group at the Royal Holloway University of London, is a GCHQ/EPSRC recognised Academic Centre of Excellence for Cyber Security Research and home to one of only two UK, Doctoral Training Centres for Cyber Security.

Big data analytics – the process of collecting, organising, analysing, visualising and optimising large, complex and dispersed data.

Innovation South region has a rich mix of private sector/academic capabilities in Big Data. These include the world’s first Big Data Centre of Excellence for the whole food system; the University of Reading’s Institute of Environmental Analytics and partnership in Agrimetrics; Royal Holloway’s specialisms in machine learning - with British Gas among its partners; and the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation. Others include IBM, QinetiQ and Dame Wendy Hall, a Regius Professor of Computer Science at Southampton, who is jointly leading a government review of the UK’s world-leading Artificial Intelligence technology.

Photonics – involves manipulating light, using lasers and optical fibres. It has revolutionised many areas including communications, medicine, aerospace and manufacturing. Fibre optic networks and developments of photonics will underpin all future communications, data and internet services.

There is a concentration of photonics research expertise at several Innovation South universities and it is particularly distinctive for its daily impact on billions of lives. For instance, a device that led to the rapid expansion of the internet was developed in the 1980s by the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), and its numerous industry partners include BAE Systems, BMW, VW and Volvo. The Universities of Surrey, Kent and Sussex also have significant research strengths in photonics

Quantum – quantum devices, components and systems are based on the ability to capture and manipulate single atoms and particles of light. They are critical to the long term “futureproofing” of digital enabling technologies, lower manufacturing costs and sustaining growth in computer processing speeds.

Universities across Innovation South are key collaborators in one or more of the four Quantum Technology Hubs. The University of Sussex is leading work with Google and Aarhuson on developing a quantum computer; Southampton University plays a key role in developing the industrial capacity and supply chain for quantum products and has particular expertise in the commercial exploitation of the technology with regional partners, including the Government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and the UK’s National Measurement Institute.

Applying digital enabling technologies across four sectors

Connected Digital

The digital economy is a UK success story and the outstanding performance of the Connected Digital sector in Innovation South is essential to that. The South has a very strong concentration of large corporates within this sector, including significant international players such as Fujitsu, Huawei, Microsoft, and IBM. There are several significant and high profile clusters of digital companies, including areas with a notable concentration of high growth digital firms: Bournemouth & Poole, Brighton, and Guildford. The “prize” of a Digital Catapult located in Brighton is testimony to the area’s innovation culture. The region is demonstrating the vast opportunities to apply digital technologies across a raft of sectors and services, such as FinTech & HealthTech using cross cutting applications to diversify their business.

Marine & Maritime

Innovation South is one of the strongest contributors to the UK’s marine and maritime industry, which is estimated to be similar in scale to pharmaceuticals and notably bigger than aerospace. In this sector, digital enabling technologies are critical for future competitiveness, especially, robotics, sensors, big data analytics, smart ship autonomous systems, cyber and electronic warfare, human computer interaction and communication. This means that together with the region’s outstanding industrial and research assets, (including Lloyd’s Register, BAE Systems, Sunseeker, the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton Solent University’s Warsash Maritime Academy and the Marine Robotics Innovation Centre), the substantial growth opportunities in marine and maritime play extremely well to this region’s specialist strengths.


Innovation in the use of digital technologies to improve health care, hospital/GP information systems, and food production and security are regional strengths. University Hospital Southampton achieved national recognition in 2016 as an IT Centre of Excellence and is improving ways of using patient data. The Kent, Surrey and Sussex Academic Health Science Network, is participating in one of five national ‘test bed’ initiatives to assess the potential for new technology in health and social care, and devices have been tested at the 5G Innovation Centre.

There are around 500 Medical Technology businesses across Innovation South, in diverse hi-tech areas from medical imaging to oncology. Prosthetics and Orthotics is a regional specialism. The global company, Blatchford, based at Basingstoke, developed the first commercially available microprocessor controlled prosthetic knee.

Technologies to control bacteria and pest threats, and the of use of data and connectivity to ensure safe, efficient and sustainable food production are also being exploited by organisations such as University of Reading’s Agrimetrics, the global life science companies - Bayer and Syngenta, as well as the Pirbright Institute.

In these areas there is significant regional and national benefit to be gained from maximising links between innovation activities.

Advanced Engineering

The South specialises in the high-value, innovation-intensive end of engineering, and its advanced engineering capabilities are at the centre of the UK’s defence and aerospace sector, where the UK has a strong comparative advantage. There are world-class and outstanding research strengths.

Southampton and Surrey universities take the UK number one and two slots for particular fields of engineering research. Others are also high performers, including Greenwich, Portsmouth, and Sussex.

Innovation South has a concentration of internationally-significant engineering businesses, with a large number of aerospace & defence companies around Farnborough in Hampshire. Other types of leading-edge and research-intensive engineering firms are well-represented: Ricardo, in Shoreham supplies the McLaren Formula One team, based in Woking and there is a huge array of specialist engineering SMEs with high demand for Digital Enabling Technologies. At Bournemouth Aviation Park, for example, there is a concentration of aerospace and advanced engineering firms, including Cobham, Meggitt and Magellan Aerospace.

The South’s world-class strengths in engineering research, are closely connected with the region’s outstanding strengths in Digital Enabling Technologies. For example, Innovation South research organisations, TRL, the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory and Thatcham Research, the motor insurance automotive research centre, are at the cutting edge of the revolution in transport which is underpinned by connected digital and automated vehicle technologies.