A call by the CBI for Cumbria to take a lead in research and development has been welcomed, although more could be done to lift stifling restrictions on how businesses access funding, says an innovation expert.

CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn has urged businesses in the county to up their game with the organisation’s ‘Don’t wait, innovate’ report, claiming Cumbria invests just 1.18 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) into research.

The CBI says accelerating R&D investment in poorly performing regions such as Cumbria – which invests less in research than 23 other UK sub-regions – could bring a £7.3 billion boost to the UK’s overall R&D spend.

In a series of recommendations to the next Government, it wants to see more support for Innovate UK and devolved funding to new regional ‘Catapult Quarters’ that would bring together local policy leaders, academic institutions and businesses to help commercialise innovative ideas.

The ideas have been welcomed by in-Cumbria’s innovation columnist Adrian Davis-Johnson, who previously spearheaded the Innovus programme, which helped county businesses to commercialise cutting-edge products.

But he told in-Cumbria, the CBI could have “gone a step further” with ‘Catapult Quarters’, which would be developed around existing Catapult Centres or Research and Technology Organisations and tend to be based in large cities.

Instead, Mr Davis-Johnston believes Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) would be better placed stimulate more R&D investment in the county.

“The potential to channel funding to LEPs, free of unnecessary bureaucracy, exists and will have great impact in the Cumbrian economy,” he said.

“Cumbria is home to some phenomenal innovative businesses, some of which were kick-started by the last Regional Growth Funded innovation scheme (now defunct) we had in the area, such as Typhon Treatment Systems.

“Further devolved funding should always be welcomed and encouraged, but it needs to come without the strings and burdens attached to it that stifles innovation within the first place.

“Over recent years, the innovation potential of Cumbria has been stifled by a reliance on European Union funds which cannot be used for nuclear businesses, tourism, retail or agriculture – which leaves very little in Cumbria that can be funded.”

On Cumbria’s current low investment in R&D, he added: “Reports such as this always put Cumbria in a poor light, and while the headlines look depressing, it is not as bad as it makes out.

“The 1.18 per cent figure is skewed because these statistics only count businesses which have their head office in Cumbria. All the R&D that is delivered in Cumbria by Sellafield Ltd and companies like Nuvia will be included in the Cheshire and Warrington figures.”

The UK currently spends 1.7 per cent of GDP on R&D – well below the 2.4 per cent average spend by counties part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which aims to stimulate economic growth and world trade.

While the Government has committed to raising the figure to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027, the CBI wants the target raised further to at least 3 per cent.

CBI deputy regional director for Cumbria and the North East, Alistair Westwood, said: “By running with this agenda, business and Government can in partnership unleash the innovative potential of towns and cities throughout the UK.

“Throughout Cumbria from Carlisle to Kendal there are already a wealth of successful stories of companies coming together in their regions to the benefit of society and the economy.

“Imagine – if R&D spending increases to at least 3 per cent of GDP and Catapult Quarters are created – how much further could the UK grow its successful innovation-based economy and break ground on the grand challenges of our time.”

Ms Fairbairn is due to launch the ‘Don’t wait, innovate’ report at the opening of Reckitt Benckiser’s new £105 million Science and Innovation Centre in Hull on Wednesday.