Want to innovate? Move to Oxfordshire!

It’s easy to forget that the country we live in isn’t actually the United Kingdom of London – yet you’d be forgiven for thinking that every major event, everything of importance and anything with a bit of creative spark always happens within earshot of Big Ben.

London PLC is not the be-all-end-all-of British industry, or indeed of innovation. In fact, pockets of creative brilliance are peppered all over the country, and thanks to a report just released by the Enterprise Research Centre, we can now map these hotspots out.

The report polled 14,000 small firms between 2010 and 2012 to try and chart the level of pioneering business activity in areas where Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) exist.

What the research showed was that an ‘arc of innovation’ existed just above London. Extending from Gloucestershire to Cambridgeshire, it hovers over the capital like a large, inquisitive eyebrow, with Oxfordshire named as the epicentre of innovative thinking.

Not only does Oxfordshire score top marks for Research and Development, but it shines in several other important categories, too. In the North, the best performer was named as Tees Valley – so if your London rent’s stifling your profit margins, a relocation to County Durham might be just the ticket if you want to innovate.

The same can’t be said of Cumbria, Northern Ireland and Eastern Scotland, however, which all scored quite poorly in the poll. The biggest shock, though, was London which whimpered in at 25th.

Professor Stephen Roper, who led the research, said: “For the first time, this gives us a picture of which localities of the UK have the highest proportion of firms introducing new products and services. The findings run counter to the dominant narrative of a country dependent on London, with innovation being much more dispersed across the country than was previously thought.

“The significant variation between different parts of the UK suggests that some localities are succeeding in creating a more innovation-friendly environment than others.”

But why did London fare so badly? For a start, only 17 per cent of London businesses introduced a new or updated product or service in the two years surveyed, compared with 27 per cent in Oxfordshire. According to the Financial Times, London’s huge business base may also be a factor in its low innovation rate.

The findings are definitely food for thought for any company with even half an eye on moving out of London: choosing an area with a real innovation culture is likely to put you among progressive and pro-active companies with whom you might find yourself doing business and learning from.

Our pick? Dorset, which came 6th in the survey. Chuck in a sea view and daily ice-creams, and your team will happily wave bye-bye to congestion, Boris Johnson and smog (we’re being dramatic), and probably even pack up the office for you.

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