South London’s economic recovery.
What’s the BIG Idea?

Richmond high street

(Image above shows Richmond town centre)

At the end of January, I hosted the inaugural BIG South London Leadership Summit. This brought together the five South London Partnership Boroughs (Richmond upon Thames, Merton, Sutton, Kingston upon Thames and Croydon) and the six South London Universities, to explore the challenges facing South London, its economy, its businesses and its citizens, and the opportunities that these unprecedented times offer us – opportunities for recovery, for investment and for growth.

I believe this was the very first time we have all been in one room – albeit a virtual one!

To realise these opportunities, the UK needs a bold economic plan with research and innovation at its centre. This is required to drive our recovery from the current pandemic and seize the opportunities of the 4th industrial revolution for all citizens.

Acknowledging the scale of both the challenge and the opportunity, the Government has set the ambition for the UK is to double its research and innovation spend to the equivalent of 2.4% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) on research by 2027, and 3% in the longer term to 2030. These ambitions were set well before the pandemic and are now ones that are even more critical following it – critical in terms of economic recovery, creating new jobs and generating opportunities.

To achieve this ambition there is an ever greater need to create connections and collaboration between the key components of the research and innovation system – connecting Universities, businesses and – above all – people. Without doubt, the most successful research and innovation ecosystems in the world – from Silicon Valley, California to Boulder, Colorado, from Tel Aviv, Israel to Stockholm, Sweden – are founded on people and the efficacy of relationships between people.

And that’s where, I believe, BIG South London comes in – bringing people together to create a new, world class, business-led innovation ecosystem stretching right across South London and, eventually, reaching far beyond it. This is the change I hope to see for South London – to be a place recognised globally as having a deeply embedded culture of innovation, creativity, applied research and knowledge exchange.

A network of people creating high value, high impact new ideas, concepts and businesses – and all located in the one, unique place that is South London, yet simultaneously engaging and collaborating with people all over the world. 

A place which attracts and retains the best talent in the world.

A place with high levels of academic visibility, engagement and impact.

A place with increased employment, wealth, and income opportunities for all.

A place with renewed vitality, ambition, confidence, prosperity and growth – growth that is both inclusive and sustainable.

A place with BIG ambitions. And BIG plans to achieve that ambition.

And the most critical element in delivering our vision and ambition it will be partnership. No single organisation, agency or individual can respond to the challenges facing our communities in isolation. All successful partnerships are made up of people who decide that change is necessary and commit to making that change happen.

From the level of commitment and passion I saw demonstrated during the BIG Leadership Summit, in particular from colleagues in our South London Universities, I truly believe we have the right people, in the right room, at the right time, for the right reasons, to realise transformational change and impact right across South London.

It’s a BIG opportunity. Let’s make sure we seize it.

Businesses looking to bring university-level expertise and talent into their organisation should check out the BIG South London voucher scheme 

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Cllr Gareth Roberts



Posted 25/02/21

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