SCI (Society of Chemical Industry) - Written evidence (STS0073)

 

Executive Summary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction to SCI

SCI (Society of Chemical Industries) is a learned society, established in 1881 to accelerate the commercialisation of of science into industry for the benefit of society. SCI is a multidisciplinary hub covering chemistry, biotechnologies, medicinal sciences, horticulture, energy and agrifood sciences.

 

As a global innovation hub, the organisation provides a forum for industry and academia to come together to exchange knowledge and to develop commercially viable solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing society today, such as Climate Change and Global Health. SCI’s community of industry and academic experts work together on clean energy, drug and medicine development, renewable energy, sustainable materials and building a healthy food chain. The organisation also seeks to develop the Next Generation of scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs.

 

SCI’s membership comes from science-based industry representatives who are focussed on delivering sustainability through scientific innovation.

 

 

The UK as a “science superpower”

There are two possible interpretations of what a “science superpower” is. The first narrow definition states it as one that does the best, and most widely recognised science and the second defines it as one that invests heavily in R&D for the benefit for society. In comparison to international competitors, the UK has been dropping down in ratings as a superpower[9],[10]. For the UK to achieve the desired status, Government strategies must firstly provide adequate support for the effective translation of research to applications and secondly leverage private sector R&D investment.

 

Fundamental science entails the study of the world around us, and the development of innovations uses the knowledge gained from such studies to provide technological applications. A successful example of this process in recent times would be the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. In order to allow the same effective translation of fundamental research to technological applications, we must acknowledge a critical part of the innovation process, late-stage R&D. This includes all the activities required to bring a concept or prototype to market. With increased support for late-stage research and development, we can support more businesses, create more tradeable solutions and jobs via innovation hubs, thus contributing various socio-economic benefits across the UK[11]. Such hubs would “level up” the UK by driving regional economic growth, coinciding with the Levelling Up strategy[12]. Such growth has already been witnessed in areas such as Cheshire due to the Alderley Park innovation hub[13].

 

Furthermore, the UK must leverage its R&D private sector investment to facilitate global leadership within science and technology. In 2020, the UK Government invested £7 million in chemical R&D and private investments equated £731 million[14], and it has announced plans to increase R&D expenditure to 2.4% of GDP[15]. However, 2.4% is the current OECD average[16] and the UK is already some way behind global competitors (figure 1). The UK should be more ambitious and set a goal of 3.0%, to be on a par with USA, Japan, Korea and Germany. This would also demand a step change in private sector funding to support this target.

 

Figure 1 shows the UK’s percentage GDP spend on R&D to be below the OECD average unlike other international competitors such as the US and Japan. To achieve the desired status, both public and private sector investment must be increased. Public and private sector investment exist in a complementary nature, financing from the public sector attracts financing from the private sector in addition to overseas investment[17]. One way of leveraging this investment is increasing support for late-stage R&D, as this is where businesses’ A screenshot of a graph

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Measuring status as a “science superpower”

Measuring status as a science superpower in this context would require a focus not purely on scientific excellence but also on the translation of science out of the laboratory. Measures such as number of R&D centres, investments in scale-up facilities and patents filed could be used to assess the translation value being created in the UK. These metrics would be used alongside others more commonly associated with scientific excellence.

 

The number of publications released by a country is often used as an indicator of their scientific output through research. Whilst the UK holds its own on these metrics, the increasing importance of countries, such as China, can be seen in the graph below. Figure 2 shows the number of scientific publications originating from the top twenty countries[19]. The output from each country varies considerably, but within the past few years the United Kingdom has been overtaken by China. With these relatively low levels of investment and growth in scientific publications, the UK’s competitive advantage could be lost to other “science superpowers”.

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Policy and Strategy

With global events forcing dramatic changes in global trade flows and relationships it is important for a new strategy to be developed – to deliver not only science for society, but also resilience and value to the economy.

 

Time should be taken to research critical sectors within these industries and technologies, so that the science needed to deliver these innovations can be identified and supported through policy[20]. Furthermore, the strategy should address the translation of science into high growth industry, creating value from the strong science base. The vision is for a strong science base that is accessible internationally, but also supporting high growth and valuable local industry supply chains, strengthening the UK for the future.

 

In addition, the regulatory regime that supports innovation and the adoption of new molecules and technologies needs serious attention. Cumbersome and unwieldy regulation needs to be removed and replaced with regulation based on scientifically sound assumptions. Lessons need to be learned from the development and commercialisation of the COVID-19 vaccines and applied into other science-based industries.

 

The government working with industry as co-investors is the desired model. Commercial investment in new technology can be effectively stimulated by grants and incentives such as tax credits[21], supporting the development of scientific advances. Existing examples of this effective model include the ATF (Automotive Transformation Fund) for low carbon technologies in the automotive sector and the ATI (Aerospace Technologies Institute) which creates and supports delivery of the technology strategy in the aerospace sector. Both mechanisms stimulate larger investments from industry, therefore similar approaches in other science based sectors could support private investment in both R&D and manufacturing assets in the UK.

 

The UK should be bold and use the opportunity of the significant geopolitical changes to establish a new vision and strategy for UK science, one that has science for societal benefit at its centre.

 

28 March 2022

 

 


[1] (2019). Retrieved from Nature Index: https://www.natureindex.com/news-blog/top-ten-countries-research-science-twenty-nineteen

[2] UK Science's "Superpower" Status at Risk. (2015). Retrieved from Chemistry World: https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/uk-sciences-superpower-status-at-risk/9140.article

[3] OECD. (2022). Gross domestic spending on R&D (indicator). OECD. doi:10.1787/d8b068b4-en

[4] (2018). Increasing R&D investment: business perspectives. Royal Academy of Engineering.

[5] Trade Resilient Supply Chains. (2020). Retrieved from OECD: https://www.oecd.org/trade/resilient-supply-chains/determine-government-role/

[6] SCI. (2022). SCI CEO comments on the Spring Statement. Retrieved from Society of Chemical Industry: https://www.soci.org/news/2022/3/sci-ceo-comments-on-the-spring-statement

[7] (2018). Increasing R&D investment: business perspectives. Royal Academy of Engineering.

[8] Dechezleprêtre, A. (2016). Do Tax Incentives for research increase firm innovation? National Bureau of Economic Research.

[9] (2019). Retrieved from Nature Index: https://www.natureindex.com/news-blog/top-ten-countries-research-science-twenty-nineteen

[10] UK Science's "Superpower" Status at Risk. (2015). Retrieved from Chemistry World: https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/uk-sciences-superpower-status-at-risk/9140.article

[11] (2018). Increasing R&D investment: business perspectives. Royal Academy of Engineering.

[12] Vernon, P. (2022). Supporting the government’s commitment to level up the UK. Retrieved from UKRI: https://www.ukri.org/blog/supporting-the-governments-commitment-to-level-up-the-uk/

[13] Cheshire East Council. (2019). An Economic Strategy for Cheshire East – 2019 to 2024.

[14] Gross domestic expenditure on research and development, UK: 2019. (2021). Retrieved from ONS: https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/governmentpublicsectorandtaxes/researchanddevelopmentexpenditure/bulletins/ukgrossdomesticexpenditureonresearchanddevelopment/2019

[15] (2021). Research & Development spending. House of Commons Library.

[16] OECD. (2022). Gross domestic spending on R&D (indicator). OECD. doi:10.1787/d8b068b4-en

[17] (2014). CaSE Briefing - The Economic Significance of the UK Science Base. CaSE (2020). Business enterprise research and development, UK. ONS. Retrieved from ONS.

[18] Late-stage R&D: buisness perspectives. Royal Academy of Engineering.

[19] Observatory, Science and Technology. (2019). Dynamics of scientific production in the world, in Europe and in France, 2000-2016. Hcéres.

[20] SCI. (2022). SCI CEO comments on the Spring Statement. Retrieved from Society of Chemical Industry: https://www.soci.org/news/2022/3/sci-ceo-comments-on-the-spring-statement

[21] Dechezleprêtre, A. (2016). Do Tax Incentives for research increase firm innovation? National Bureau of Economic Research.