Both the Scottish and UK governments should “build bridges” rather than “fighting with each other”, Sir Ian Wood has said, as ministers from both parliaments came to Aberdeen to celebrate a milestone in the delivery of a flagship project for the north-east region’s life sciences sector.
Sir Ian was speaking as he welcomed Scottish economy and finance secretary Kate Forbes and Michael Gove, cabinet office minister and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to a ceremony where they signed a steel beam to mark progress on the construction of BioHub, a focal point for biotech, med tech and digital health companies.
Both Ms Forbes and Mr Gove were positive about the collaborative efforts between the two governments that have so far brought the development of the site to its current stage. Around £20million of capital investment for the scheme came from the Aberdeen City Region Deal (CRD) which was supported with funding from both the Scottish and UK governments. Opportunity North East (One), a public/private economic development agency, has added a further £5.6m to the pot to support businesses are involved with project.
Sir Ian, who is chairman One, which leads the project, was complimentary to both Ms Forbes and Mr Gove individually but argued there could be better collaboration between their two administrations, while the issue of Scottish independence “still looms as a major barrier” he added.
A huge step for Aberdeen life sciences firms
Speaking of the progress of the BioHub, Sir Ian said he was “delighted to see the building so far on.”
He added: “This is going to take life sciences in Aberdeen a huge step ahead.
“It will never be a huge industry, it will be a very high value industry employing high value people.”
Responding to a comment that project has successfully brought the Conservative UK government and that of the Scottish Government to work together he said: ”
“One thing I feel is it isn’t as good as you think it is. I have a very strong view that, right now, both governments spend half their time fighting with each other rather than doing constructive things.
“We have people like Kate Forbes who is actually really good. Actually Michael Gove is also very good and very focused on the union.
We will get so much more if we actually try and build bridges and do things together.”
Sir Ian Wood
“We will get so much more if we actually try and build bridges and do things together. I hope that is going to happen. Independence still looms as a major barrier. We don’t do as well as we should in terms of getting co-operation.”
Mr Gove said: “The opening of the BioHub today and laying of the steel I think marks a very effective example of co-operation between the UK government and the Scottish Government.
More co-operation not less
“Both of us have put millions of pounds into this alongside Opportunity North East and I think this is what people want to see – people want to see co-operation as we recover from Covid.
“Here in the north-east we have a real centre of excellent in life sciences and medical research. This cooperation will work for everyone.”
Ms Forbes hailed the progress of BioHub as a “great emblem of partnership working – not just between governments but between government and industry and that is what is needed here in the north-east.”
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BioHub is scheduled to open in October 2022 and is expected to house up to 400 scientific entrepreneurs with the goal of doubling the number of life sciences companies in the region by 2027.
800 tonnes of steel
Around 800 tonnes of steel frame has been installed on the site on the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary Foresterhill Health Campus since construction started at the end of March – equalling 1,600 pieces of steel lifted in by two cranes over 10 weeks
Jennifer Craw, chief executive of One, said it was a “day to celebrate” and hailed the “resilience” of the combined team delivering on the project, including main contractor Robertson, as well as ACRD partners from Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire councils alongside NHS Grampian and University of Aberdeen.
She added the group had further plans for expansion which would include raising further funding rounds, including from Scottish and UK governments.
She said: “The next phase is to continue to secure additional funding – for example we are looking to set up a biologics manufacturing unit. Our overall aim would be to have an early stage fund that will support the young companies coming through and give them that early boost in terms of funding to get through the early stage trials phase.
“Ultimately the goal will be the companies are so successful they will grow out of BioHub and we will need more manufacturing space elsewhere in the region.”
Elliot Robertson, chief executive of Robertson Group, said: “This effective partnership between Opportunity North East, NHS Grampian, University of Aberdeen and Government is playing an instrumental role in the recovery, diversification and transformation of Aberdeen by growing the health economy, and we are proud to be the selected construction partner.
“The high-quality iconic building consisting of new innovative offices and lab spaces, will create a working environment that will influence and inspire the scientific entrepreneurs who will take up residence in late 2022.”