42nd Congress of the European Regional Science Association: "From Industry to Advanced Services - Perspectives of European Metropolitan Regions", August 27th - 31st, 2002, Dortmund, Germany
To many old hands in regional science it might seem that the present emphasis, in international circles, on sector-based cluster policies is missing many points over which familiar old 'growth pole' policies were found wanting in the past. There are however, points to be made for a cluster approach over new IT sectors, biotechnology and their value in marketing regions and their exports. In the UK, transatlantic and business influences have kept a cluster policy well up the agendas and strategies of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs). Yet at the same time, many experienced analysts see very few 'true' clusters in UK geography. It was found for example that computer services worked across the greater South East as a whole. Other, officially sponsored work found that the proportion of a region's employment accounted for by clusters ranged from 43 per cent in London to 15 per cent in the North West, and could be declining. There is confusion over the relative roles of sectors and space in the definition of clusters, and many attempts at developing typologies have been developed in the face of this confusion, placing emphasis on networking, innovative capabilities and institutional structure. However, recent development in cluster work in the UK has tended to ignore these subtleties and pursued a 'less complicated' or simplistic Porter (1990) definition, based on industrial sectors. Most recently cluster policy has been accused of being a 're-badged' existing sector policy. For example, the West Midlands can be regarded as having a clustering of automotive component and clothing companies. A recent study revealed that these sectors have more similarities than differences, in the issues and competitive pressures they are facing as companies, rather than as a sector. Therefore, in essence building clusters should not be solely centred around a sectoral base, but around 'inter-related industries' which have well founded roots in the region's skills and capability base. This begins to question the logic of using 'sector' as means to compartmentalize RDA cluster policy.