New research by Ridge and Partners has revealed talent shortages and growth ambitions are forcing science and tech businesses to review their property strategies.

The report, Building a Future for Science and Technology, indicates that more than half the UK’s most promising firms in the sector plan to relocate over the next three years and 16 per cent plan to go abroad.

Ridge and Partners, a multi-discipline property and construction consultancy, interviewed 103 science and tech companies. The survey found that on average, those firms expected to grow by 52 per cent over the next three years but their ambitions are being restrained by premises and location concerns.

Specific findings show:

  • A fifth of science and tech companies complain their current premises are not accessible by public transport
  • A further 16 per cent say wider transport links are not good enough to attract the talent they need
  • A lack of affordable local housing is a problem for more than one in five (22 per cent)
  • Almost half (49 per cent) are not sure their current premises will meet their future needs
  • A total 36 per cent say their space either isn’t flexible or big enough for them to grow
  • That lack of flexibility is also an issue for 29 per cent who are struggling with the challenge of staff who now want to work from home
  • A fifth feel their premises are not attractive or environmentally sustainable enough, a key consideration as 42 per cent are facing growing eco/environmental demands from employees

The report found those issues and shortcomings are impacting the sectors’ ability to recruit and therefore grow.

More than a third are struggling to fill crucial support roles such as lab technicians and admin staff – those most massively affected by public transport and local housing costs.

A total of 48 per cent say they have difficulty filling more senior roles and 31 per cent report they need to be nearer a larger pool of talent, for some overseas.

Liz Sparrow, partner, science and tech lead at Ridge and Partners, said: “Although our research paints a national picture, many of the issues it raises will undoubtedly resonate at a local level here in Oxfordshire.

“For instance, the problems of affordable housing, public and local transport links are very real challenges for Oxford’s science and tech business communities. To grow and prosper these companies need to be able to attract workers at all levels. However younger workers increasingly don’t necessarily want to own a car.

“That means that first class public transport links are essential. Similarly, few support staff such as lab technicians will be able to afford our local house prices, which are so massively above the national average.

“The good news is that although transport and affordable housing may be challenges, there’s no doubting that Oxfordshire has some significant advantages which could help it compete to become the location of choice for science and tech businesses. It has a close association with world-renowned academia and one in four science and tech companies told us they need to be closer to good academic institutions.

“Plus, as a location, Oxford is a strong, positive brand. With almost half the UK companies we questioned struggling to attract the senior executives they need, a location’s national and international pulling power is really going to count.

 “Sustainability also increasingly matters to relocating companies and we feel there’s scope for the science/tech parks and other commercial buildings in Oxfordshire to lead the way in green design and innovation. You only need to look at our work with Bicester Motion and Culham Science Centre to see what’s possible.

“It’s a challenge, but taken in the round, if the local authority, planners, the construction sector and science parks all work together to create a masterplan for the area which addresses the issues and capitalises on the advantages, there’s a real opportunity to build Oxfordshire into a true science and tech powerhouse.”

The research also illustrated how dependent small and large science and tech businesses are on each other. Irrespective of size, 31 per cent want to be located nearer to others in the sector and science and tech parks were preferred by 98 per cent in the report.

However, the report shows not all those eco-systems are working as they should, with 19 per cent  reporting that their science park landlords are not in tune with their needs.

A third say that there aren’t enough good suppliers near them, while 24 per cent need to be closer to major academic institutions.

But there was also some familiar feelings about science parks. A total 45 per cent felt they all seem the same and 80 per cent say they feel rather ‘out of town’, an issue exacerbated by public transport problems.

Eighty-one per cent believe their science park should prioritise sustainability and a fifth want their science park to be a more high-tech and greener space to help attract talent.

Features which businesses would like to have include visible renewable energy sources (19 per cent) and impressive front of house or showcase areas for visitors and partners to use (20 per cent).

Liz Sparrow said: “It’s important that we note these needs, as every company which exits these diverse eco-systems and relocates overseas, or simply fails to thrive, weakens things for everyone else. To protect one, we must plan and build for all.

“But with such a diverse mix of building, housing, and infrastructure needs to address, no single body alone can do this.

“Joined-up thinking is needed between the public and private sectors, between the UK’s Government, its cities, regions, construction sector, and science parks. Collaboration is key if we’re to create, grow – and keep – the UK’s tech/science powerhouses.”

The report can be downloaded here.

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