10 June, 2019 - 08:10 By Tony Quested

Cambridge growth far stronger than figures suggest

Mark Twain was fond of quoting UK Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli that there were three kinds of lies – “lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Ironically, even Twain’s honourable citation of Disraeli for this piece of wisdom may have been erroneously based; no-one has found any evidence of Disraeli ever having said such a thing. None of which diminishes the power of the phrase.

It has sprung to mind several times recently on receipt at Business Weekly of various surveys covering levels of investment into the cluster, the number of unicorn companies here compared to the rest of the world, headcount numbers, company turnover ad nauseum.

On investigation none was found to be accurate; in fact most were highly inaccurate, which shows that the survey samples or research on which the reports were based were sadly wanting.

Even one of the most credible pieces of recent research on the local business scene – and from a commendable source – hopelessly failed to reflect the actual growth of Cambridge-based businesses.

To be fair, the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Business Research had one arm and half a leg tied up its back in gathering its most recent data of the growth of Cambridge-based companies within the Cambridge Ahead area (within a 20-mile radius of the city).

It said that these businesses grew their global turnover by 8.7 per cent and their global employment by 4.1 per cent, generated total revenues of £46.6bn and employed 233,000 employees worldwide. This is, of course, hopelessly undercooked and undersells Europe’s leading science & technology cluster.

In sit-down talks with one of the research team and Cambridge Ahead, it became obvious just how restrictive were their terms of reference – so no-one is pointing fingers of blame here. The figures were as accurate as the brief allowed.

But as Cambridge seeks to establish its own inward investment initiative to showcase the cluster globally – of which more at a later date when there is more meat on the bones – it is critical to report the real strength of Cambridge far more accurately so the cluster can fulfil its potential for global growth and inward investment.

It emerged that the research team’s brief meant they could only, for example, count turnover and headcount for Arm Ltd in Cambridge – not the Arm group as a whole.

It emerged that AstraZeneca, now headquartered in Cambridge as it has been for some time, had not been counted because it was felt they were not yet an official Cambridge business. Ironically, AZ subsidiary MedImmune WAS counted – but, of course, has ceased to exist as a result of AstraZeneca’s group restructuring.

Nor was the full glory of the AVEVA-Schneider Electric merged business, headquartered in Cambridge, counted adequately in the report tally.

Our argument, which global investors go by, is that if a business is founded or rooted in Cambridge then its entire global footprint should be measured. By that token, we swiftly computed that AstraZeneca employed 61,100 people, Arm 6,250, Marshall Group more than 6,000, AVEVA almost 4,500, Anglian Water 4,000 and Johnson Matthey 14,000. We could go on but the point is already made.

These six Cambridge icons together employ 95,850 people – leaving the rest of the university sample only employing 137,150 which is clearly way off beam. Actual turnover figures for all the companies based in Cambridge also dwarf the numbers given in the University-Cambridge Ahead survey.

Their cohort is said to have generated total sales of £46.6bn at the last count. Our super six alone had combined 2018 revenues of £28.24bn.

As you can see, there is a huge disconnect between the report’s heavily caveated figures and the REAL, dynamic and continually improving performance of the cluster as we see evidenced day after day.

Cambridge will only leverage its full capability in terms of global reach and inward investment if the true picture is consistently painted. Cambridge influencers are in the process of preparing a much broader canvas, richly but accurately painted.

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