Press Release: £10m Challenge Fund gets Regional Cabinet backing

Cardiff Capital Region’s Regional Cabinet has today (October 19 2020) approved a £10m Challenge Fund aimed at re-building local wealth through bringing innovative solutions to tackling some of the CCR’s most urgent societal problems.

What is the Challenge Fund?

Working in partnership with Cardiff University and YLab, the fund will invite our public sector bodies to develop challenges and connect with organisations that are able to provide innovative solutions to the challenges identified. This approach aims to draw on the region’s creativity and ingenuity and bring together the public and private sector in order to deliver novel solutions, where no commercial solution currently exists, and to provide a route to market for the solution.

Three Key Themes Identified

Cardiff Capital Region has identified three key priority themes that it wants the challenges to address. The first is accelerating decarbonisation – specifically, in relation to improving air quality, and transport. The second is improving the health and wellbeing of the region’s citizens, looking at issues such as food and health, and food security. The third is supporting, enhancing and transforming communities, with a focus on town centres, high streets and rural communities.

These are all long-term problems that public sector bodies would have been grappling with anyway. But their urgency has been intensified by the experience of Covid. The lockdown has raised new questions about how we organise our transport and improve air quality. It’s also raised the need to find new solutions to help our struggling high streets and town centres, which have been hit badly by Covid-related restrictions.

The fund also throws down a challenge to private and third sector organisations: here’s the problem we’ve identified, come up with an innovative solution to it. Unlike previous procurement exercises, under the Challenge Fund public sector bodies will not be defining the solution they want and then asking private sector businesses to bid to provide it.

Instead, they will be putting the onus on private sector firms to come up with solutions. The hope is that this will inspire creativity among those firms to come up with new ways of doing things that haven’t been tried before.

Finally, the fund also challenges the public sector to relinquish some of its control over the procurement process. At the heart of the Challenge Fund is an ambition to harness the power of Innovation in Procurement whilst supporting Procurement of Innovation using approaches such as the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) to identify and develop individual challenges to generate new ideas, solutions, and projects. Instead of being in charge every step of the way, from identifying a problem to defining a solution and choosing the best bid, now the public body, having identified the problem, will invite others to come up with solutions. It is hoped it will prove a liberating experience and deliver better solutions.

Ensuring the solutions deliver maximum impact

There are other elements to the fund which explain why people in CCR have high hopes for it. The proposed solutions will be judged against a set of criteria designed to ensure they have the maximum possible positive impact. Solutions will be judged not just on their novelty, but also on their ability to bring about radical improvements, and crucially, their potential for scalable commercial outcomes.

They will have to deliver a high impact in relation to the scale of the problem and the resources they use. They will develop new skills and knowledge, and deliver improvements to public services that are significant, scalable and sustainable. And they will have a route to market and deliver local wealth building outcomes within the region.

What happens next?

In the initial phase the work will revolve around identifying the actual challenges and to that end expressions of interest are now being actively being sought from all public sector organisations active in the Cardiff Capital Region.

Workshops will follow on later this year to allow opportunities for public sector organisations to work with the CCR Challenge Fund Team and our innovation partners Cardiff University to develop the challenges.

The intention is to have completed this phase and to have awarded initial contracts by the end of March 2021 at which point the challenge will be launched into the open market and the real innovation will commence.

New Era, New Ways of Working

The Challenge Fund continues the CCR’s philosophy of tackling economic development in a different way; one that is more collaborative and inclusive. The Fund team will develop practices and techniques that have been tried and tested, for example in SBRI, to create a bespoke approach that is tailored to the region’s needs. It’s an approach designed to harness the strength of the region’s most innovative small and medium-sized companies, reinvigorate the foundational economy, and radicalise public procurement in a way that gives more value for money, creates better outcomes for citizens and communities, and promotes well-balanced economic growth.

Cardiff Capital Region exists to make the region more competitive and resilient. The Challenge Fund is the latest tool in the CCR’s toolbox as it seeks to do that.

Philippa Marsden; Leader Caerphilly County Borough Council, CCR Regional Cabinet, and member of the Challenge Fund Strategic Board said:

“This is an exciting fund and it couldn’t come at a better time. It offers us opportunities to look at old, systemic issues through new lenses. The future requires us to rethink and reshape, to embrace innovation and change and to work with greater agility and collaboration to create new markets and better, more sustainable futures. This initiative allows us to do that and I am looking forward to playing a full and active role in driving this initiative forward.”

Gill Bristow; Professor of Economic Geography Cardiff University and member of the Challenge Fund Strategic Board said:

“The approval of the CCR Challenge Fund is a really exciting development for the city region especially as we seek to rebuild the economy in the wake of covid-19. The Challenge Fund will galvanise the collaboration between Cardiff University researchers and the CCR on local economic development, and offers public service providers the opportunity to benefit from the University’s research and innovation expertise as we jointly strive to find solutions to key societal challenges”.

Rick Delbridge, Professor of Organisational Analysis Cardiff University and Delivery Partner Lead

“We are delighted to be collaborating with the Cardiff Capital Region on this Challenge Fund. The purpose of the CCR Challenge Fund Programme is to create commercial opportunities for companies who propose promising and innovative solutions to major societal challenges that have been identified by public bodies. The Cardiff University team has a track record of world-leading research and impact on innovation policy, economic development and public services innovation and we will work with the CCR and partners to develop and deliver an innovative programme of activity that builds from tried-and-tested approaches to create a bespoke programme.”


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