HM Government – Written evidence (STS0080)
Submitted by Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
As last year’s Integrated Review sets out, countries which establish a leading role in critical and emerging technologies will be at the forefront of future global leadership. The UK is already a Science and Technology power, and we want to build on our existing strengths in sectors like life sciences, digital and creative, and space industries. Our goal is to maximise our potential, taking a more active approach to building and sustaining our strategic advantage in Science and Technology, delivering greater prosperity, security, and wellbeing to citizens in the UK, and contributing to shared global challenges such as climate change. This will also be an essential foundation for all of the objectives in the Strategic Framework, including ensuring the UK has the influence and tools to shape an open international order of the future.
The pace of science and innovation is creating new opportunities for whole new industries in ever shorter technology cycles. It is important that we move fast to seize the opportunity of post-Brexit regulatory, procurement and trading freedoms.
Our Innovation Strategy provides a serious long-term plan for how we put innovation at the heart of “building back better” by mainstreaming the lessons learned from the pandemic and our world-leading vaccine rollout. It identified seven technology families where the UK has a globally competitive R&D and industrial strength. The purpose of these technology families is to focus domestic and international attention on the potential of UK tech and act as a starting point for prioritisation. Within these seven technology families are technologies that offer the potential to develop self-healing materials, advance diagnostics & disease cures, harness cells as nanotechnology factories, create a new generation of hydrogen fuels and dissolvable plastics, deliver solar power in space and provide carbon sequestration & clean nuclear fusion energy generators.
However, attempting to lead in every technology within each family will likely prevent us attaining a world-leading edge in any one area. Instead, we will need to focus on a small number of big propositions. The Strategy therefore highlights the need to prioritise at a more granular level, considering factors like UK comparative advantage, transformative potential, and security and societal need. This approach will allow government to convene industry and academia to co-design, develop and drive the adoption of transformative tech, such as advanced materials, quantum, AI and robotics, delivering real progress.
The articulation of the four goals in the UK Science and Technology Strategy reflects existing Government priorities and recognises the central role that scientific and technological developments will play in solving global challenges such as climate change while delivering greater security and prosperity for UK citizens.
Achieving our Global Science Superpower ambitions will require a whole of Government, and whole of UK, approach. The establishment of the National Science and Technology Council places S&T at the heart of Government business, bringing together Cabinet Ministers with responsibilities for domestic policy, national security, and international relations to make the strategic decisions needed to effectively develop and harness UK S&T capability in support of UK objectives at home and abroad. This is underpinned with BEIS as the lead investor in the R&D system, along with other departments’ R&D investment helping to shape high-value sectors, including pharmaceutical, defence and digital.
This coordinated approach across government will ensure we are able to take the strategic decisions needed to turn the UK into an R&D powerhouse for sustainable global development – ensuring we are the best place in the world to discover, develop, commercialise, regulate, finance & export the key technologies of the future.
Government invests strategically in Research and Development (R&D) programmes which support the UK’s long-term resilience and economic growth, including in emerging technologies and net zero. This includes the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s investments in nuclear fusion research and investments via the Aerospace Technology Institute in low emission aviation technologies. Continuing to invest in world class discovery science; harnessing UK science to help tackle global grand challenges; attracting much more significant global industrial R&D to the UK; deepening our bilateral & multi-lateral R&D collaborations; and investing in both homegrown & global talent is central for the UK to be a science superpower.
What would a “science superpower” look like?
Achieving our Global Science Superpower ambitions will require a whole of Government, and whole of UK, approach. The establishment of the National Science and Technology Council places Science &Technology at the heart of Government business, bringing together Cabinet Ministers with responsibilities for domestic policy, national security, and international relations to make the strategic decisions needed to effectively develop and harness UK Science &Technology capability in support of UK objectives at home and abroad.
The Research & Development Roadmap and Innovation Strategy set out the Government’s vision and ambition for the next chapter for UK research and development, highlighting where we have strengths and where we have areas for improvement. We are now focusing on implementation and delivery.
As part of our delivery of the UK Research and Development Roadmap, the Integrated Review and the Innovation Strategy, BEIS – as the lead investor in the R&D system on behalf of HMT – is looking to establish a Ministerial Group on R&D. This forum will help drive forward our commitment to securing and advancing the UK’s status as a global science superpower and innovation nation. The objectives of the group are to: facilitate enhanced coordination on cross-government R&D priorities and increase awareness of activity elsewhere in Government, foster knowledge exchange between departments to support clearer messages to the R&D sector; raise concerns, challenges, or opportunities in particular areas of policy.
Does the Government have a coherent strategy and sufficient existing policies to make the UK a “science superpower?”
We are already taking significant steps to reform and refine our research landscape, funding processes and ecosystem to ensure the UK is a global science, technology and innovation superpower. Delivery of the R&D Roadmap is well advanced, and BEIS is currently focusing on the implementation and delivery of subsequent strategies including the Innovation Strategy and People and Culture Strategy.
Further improvements to the R&D system will also emerge from the recommendations made by independently led Reviews of Bureaucracy, UK Research and Innovation and the RDI Organisational Landscape. These will help to strip back the red tape from existing research ecosystems, increase the agility of funding decisions, and create new career paths for a new generation of scientists and innovators.
The Levelling Up White Paper announced a series of measures to grow existing and developing R&D clusters to level up the economy and support the UK’s science superpower ambition. Government is committed to increasing domestic public investment in R&D outside the Greater South East by at least one third over the Spending Review period and at least 40 percent by 2030. In support of this, BEIS will aim for regions outside the Greater South East to receive at least 55% of its R&D budget by 2024/25.
We are also investing £100 million to pilot new Innovation Accelerators supporting three UK city regions (Glasgow City Region, Greater Manchester and West Midlands) to become major, globally competitive centres for research and innovation, through bringing together new locally-led partnerships that will develop plans to boost innovation and attract new R&D investment, building on local strengths and opportunities.
What measures should determine whether the UK has become a “science superpower”?
The UK already has an excellent position in the quality of our research, for example in terms of high-ranking research universities and of highly cited research publications, and we have consistently performed well in the Global Innovation Index over the past decade.
The world-leading results of this were seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, not just with vaccines, but also in terms of investigating how the virus was changing and in testing life-saving treatments. What we also need to do is increase the quantity of research and development while maintaining quality and focussing on priorities for the future.
BEIS publishes an Outcome Delivery Plan. For our priority outcome on unleashing innovation, we have three performance metrics: UK gross expenditure on research and development as % of GDP; business enterprise expenditure on research and development as % of GDP; and the percentage of businesses that are innovation active, including by region.
Are the Office for Science and Technology Strategy's four scientific and technological priorities the right ones for the UK?
The Science and Technology Strategy's four scientific and technological priorities reflects existing Government priorities. will enable us to deploy our national S&T capability in a more targeted and strategic way, to unlock better outcomes for our citizens and deliver strategic advantage for the UK.
What could be done to ensure that the Government’s science and technology strategy is long-term and pursued across administrations? What have been the consequences of a frequently changing science policy?
The gradual shift of funding towards OGDs is in direct response to the recommendations of the Science Capability Review, to give departments more autonomy to use their expertise to commission and invest in R&D directly. Central departments have in-house capabilities and knowledge that can and should be drawn upon – divesting more investment to OGDs ensures science is at the heart of departments’ strategies.
Whilst there has been considerable review and reform in the area of science policy in recent years, there has also been continuity. Funding from UKRI for example, including Quality-related Research (QR) formula funding to universities, has provided long-term certainty to research institutions. In addition, the Government has now agreed a three-year Spending Review which will enable long-term planning to take place across Government departments with regard to research funding and policy.
To support broader discussions on R&D policy across Government departments, BEIS and GO Science operate a cross-Government R&D Strategy Board co-chaired by Sir Patrick Vallance and Jo Shanmugalingam, BEIS Director General for Science, Innovation, and Growth. The Board provides a forum for strategic discussions on R&D related policy priorities.
How should Government coordinate science policy across different departments, with different strategic priorities such as levelling up? What role could the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) play?
The NSTC, chaired by the Prime Minister, brings together Cabinet Ministers with responsibilities for domestic policy, national security, and international relations, enabling collective agreement on how we best use our S&T capabilities to deliver HMG objectives, from Net Zero to Levelling Up.
How should the National Science and Technology Council and the Office for Science and Technology Strategy interact with existing bodies like the UKRI Council and the Council for Science and Technology?
The NSTC will allow the government to make the strategic decisions needed to deliver the UK’s global science superpower ambitions. Departments and agencies, including UKRI, will draw on government decisions on S&T when planning their own strategic plans and activities. The Office for Science and Technology Strategy will not seek to dictate or direct public spending on core R&D. It provides independent advice to the Prime Minister to inform policy. The Council for Science and Technology (CST) advises the Prime Minister on science and technology policy issues across government. Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, as CEO of UKRI and Professor Julia Black (UKRI Non-Executive Director) are ex officio members of the CST.
UKRI is a Non-Departmental Body. BEIS sponsors UKRI by improving engagement, promoting assurance, aligning strategically and fostering UK talent.
UKRI was set up in response to the 2015 Paul Nurse Review recommendations, to provide a joined-up, strategic voice for UK research and innovation; to reduce administrative overheads and eliminate duplication whilst encouraging interdisciplinarity; and to maximise the value and benefit from HMT’s investment of billions of pounds in research and innovation,
UKRI delivers the UK's ambition to remain a globally leading research and innovation nation, keeping us at the forefront of discovery research and game-changing technology such as AI and quantum computing, and drives growth and investment in key sectors such as space and life sciences. As such, these bodies fulfil different, essential, and complementary roles.
Are the right levers and mechanisms in place for the delivery of a science and technology strategy?
The R&D Roadmap, published in 2020, was the start of a big conversation on what actions needed to be taken to build on our successes and to ensure the right levers and mechanisms were in place going forward to cement the UK as a science superpower.
Since its publication, BEIS has prioritised publication of strategies on major R&D commitments including Innovation and People & Culture, in parallel with securing successive R&D settlements to support activity to 2024/25. Further improvements to the R&D system are also being driven through the commissioning of independently led Reviews of Bureaucracy, of UKRI and of the RDI Organisational Landscape.
We continue to work with expert groups and stakeholders to take stock of what levers are already in place, what works well and what we might stop doing, and where we need to prioritise our efforts.
Who should be accountable for the delivery of a science and technology strategy?
The Prime Minister and the government are accountable to Parliament on the activities they undertake in their areas of responsibility.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is the lead department for R&D (including science and technology) in the UK Government and the overall system that underpins it. The BEIS Secretary of State, supported by his Ministerial team, leads on overall policy and strategy for science, research and development including through sponsorship of UK Research and Innovation.
In other UK Government departments, UK science and technology strategy is driven by the Secretaries of State and their Ministerial teams and focuses more on those departments specific policy interests. Ministers are responsible for commissioning research and development in their areas of accountability to ensure evidence-based policy making.
The new National Science & Technology Council will bring departments together to make the strategic decisions needed to deliver the UK’s Global Science Superpower ambitions. As a Cabinet Committee it can take collective decisions that are binding across government.
What ministerial representation should science and technology have?
The Secretary of State for BEIS leads on overall policy and strategy for science, research and development including through sponsorship of UK Research and Innovation, with the Minister for Science and Innovation leading on this aspect of the BEIS portfolio.
Individual Ministers in departments have responsibility for their R&D budgets and the Inter-Ministerial Group is bringing together and supporting ongoing cross-Government discussions on research and development.
The NSTC brings together ministers at a cabinet level to take decisions focused on strategic advantage.
The Haldane Principle was enshrined in law for the first time in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA 2017). It means that decisions on individual research projects are best taken by researchers themselves through peer review. This involves evaluating the quality, excellence and likely impact of science and research programmes.
Ministers set the strategic direction of funding for UKRI and decide on its overall allocation. In accordance with the HERA 2017, Ministers take advice from UKRI and then decide on its allocations, including split by UKRI council and the balance of dual support. UKRI then uses that funding for a mix of curiosity driven and strategic research, chosen by researchers following peer review or similar.
A similar principle is applied to allocations to the four independent UK National Academies. Ministers decide overall allocations to the Academies, which then distribute this funding across a range of Academy activities and programmes, most of which enable top research talent – itself a strategic priority – to work on a mixture of curiosity-driven and strategic research. The Academies, not Ministers, decide which researchers are supported.
We are also establishing ARIA, which will have maximum autonomy over its research and project choice; its procedures; and its institutional culture. Decisions on the programme portfolio will be set by ARIA, not Ministers, and allocation of funding to research projects will be decided by those with relevant technical expertise.
Should the Government take further steps to preserve and enhance the Haldane principle?
The Haldane Principle is enshrined in law in relation to UKRI funding. There are no plans to increase this protection at the moment.
How should the Government balance support for bottom up, curiosity-driven research with support for research focused on its strategic priorities?
Ministers approve UKRI’s allocations, including the split by constituent council. This is based on advice from the experts in UKRI. The Government supports a good mix of bottom up, curiosity-driven research and that focused on strategic priorities.
Government invests strategically in R&D programmes which support the UK’s long-term resilience and economic growth, including in emerging technologies and net zero. This includes the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s investments in nuclear fusion research and investments via the Aerospace Technology Institute in low emission aviation technologies.
Being a science superpower means properly harnessing the UK’s deep science leadership for global good: continuing to invest in world class discovery science; harnessing UK science to help tackle global grand challenges; attracting much more significant global industrial R&D to the UK; deepening our bilateral & multi-lateral R&D collaborations; and investing in both homegrown & global talent.
It means showing UK leadership on the global stage and maintaining the UK’s position as a world leader in science and innovation, and rankings in Global Research and the Global Innovation indices. And it means the UK being at the forefront of technological progress so that we continue to be leaders in emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing.
The Covid pandemic has emphasised just what extraordinary advances can be made at scale and at speed. With the necessary pace, agility & focus on the opportunity I am confident we can breathe life into many more scientific and technological breakthroughs that will transform the lives of people across the UK and the world, restoring the UK’s global role as both an Innovation Nation and a science superpower.
Do bureaucratic processes hinder research and development in the UK? Are there examples of where these could be removed without compromising oversight?
The Government launched an independent Review of Research Bureaucracy in March 2021. The Review is being led by Prof Adam Tickell, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham and interim findings were published on 12 January. The review will identify and tackle unnecessary bureaucracy and its causes from a system-wide perspective. It will recognise that all parties – government, funders, higher education institutions and research organisations – need to play their full part in this agenda. The aim will be to reduce bureaucracy and will build on initiatives already being undertaken by funding bodies and research organisations, including UK Research and Innovation’s ‘Simpler and Better Funding’ programme.
The interim report summarises the evidence gathered on a number of categories, spanning the funding lifecycle. They include assurance, monitoring and reporting, the application process, grant implementation and in-grant management, digital platforms, communications and institutional bureaucracy.
The Review is considering whether and how a risk-based approach to assurance might address assurance requirements but reduce duplication and unnecessary bureaucratic burden. This could explore whether periodic assessment of an institution’s overall performance might enable reduced project-level assurance. The Review will also consider methods of assurance used in other sectors, such as a mix of risk-based and random sampling approaches.
The final report and recommendations are expected in the early summer.
Could the bureaucracy reducing principles of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency be extended to other public sector research establishments?
Although the interim findings of the Review of Research Bureaucracy focussed, in the main, on the university research sector the Review has since engaged with other research organisations, including the PSREs. The Review’s final report will include principles and specific recommendations to address unnecessary bureaucracy across the sector.
How can the Government better incentivise and support interdisciplinary research and innovation?
Part of the rationale for creating UKRI was to make interdisciplinary research and innovation easier by bringing the former Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England together.
In addition, there are specific mechanisms to encourage interdisciplinary research such as the Strategic Priorities Fund which was set up to invest in strategically important research and innovation and emerging priorities, in multi and inter-disciplinary research. It is delivering 34 projects across all disciplines and in line with government priorities, from a policy and evidence centre on modern slavery to greenhouse gas demonstrators.
Does the Government’s strategic direction and the current allocation of research funding align with the UK’s scientific and economic strengths?
The unprecedented increase in public investment announced at the Budget signals a step change in our overall ambitions for UK research and will enable us to push harder at the frontiers of knowledge, unlocking brilliant new technological breakthroughs and enabling applied research to create transformative benefits for government, businesses and communities right across the UK.
The Spending Review 2021 R&D settlement provides a firm foundation for the government to meet its ambition to increase public R&D spending to £22 billion by 2026-27, and drive economy-wide R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP in 2027. BEIS received its largest ever R&D budget at SR21, with £39.8 billion over the SR period. We have now set out how funding will be allocated across our partner organisations over the next three years.
BEIS’ allocations reflect the government’s ambition to cement the UK as a Science Superpower and Innovation Nation by strengthening our R&D system, attracting and developing top research talent, driving innovation and productivity, and levelling up R&D across the UK. The investments will allow us to capitalise on the strengths of our world-leading R&D system and provide a clear path to growing the economy as we recover from the impact of the pandemic, whilst also supporting our commitment to achieve Net Zero by 2050.
HM Treasury determines the split of R&D funding by Government Department. Government departments play an integral role in setting the strategic direction of their R&D funding, driven by Ministerial priorities.
Once BEIS is allocated R&D funding in the Spending Review, BEIS Ministers decide on the split between Partner Organisations based on advice, including from UKRI. This split is determined by government priorities, as set out in strategies, including the Innovation Strategy the capability and expertise of the delivery bodies and the need to continue existing programmes. OGDs can and do work with UKRI and other BEIS partner organisations to deliver their own research and innovation.
We published the BEIS research and development (R&D): partner organisation allocation 2022/2023 to 2024/2025 on 14th March 2022. This included the budget for UKRI for the next three years. UKRI launched, on 17 March, their 5-year Strategy- ‘Transforming tomorrow together’ outlining how they will fund the UK’s world class R&I system to fuel an innovation-led economy and society, drive up prosperity across the UK, and secure the UK as a global leader.
The majority of BEIS’ R&D SR21 settlement – £25 billion of £39.8 billion – is allocated to UKRI. UKRI councils deliver both strategic and responsive research and innovation in line with the strategic steers from Ministers. Individual research projects are decided by researchers themselves following peer review, in line with the Haldane Principle.
Should Government departments commission and fund more research and development directly?
The decision to allocate funding between departments lies with HMT, who determines the split of R&D funding by government department based on bids submitted during the Spending Review process.
R&D funding has already gradually shifted towards OGDs is in direct response to the recommendations of the Science Capability Review, to give departments more autonomy to use their expertise to commission and invest in R&D directly.
Central departments have in-house capabilities and knowledge that can and should be drawn upon – divesting more investment to OGDs ensures science is at the heart of departments’ strategies.
To ensure the UK can continue as a science superpower, however, it is vital that BEIS has strategic responsibility for investing more generally in a strong R&D system, from discovery research through to commercialisation. BEIS received its largest ever R&D budget at SR21 with responsibility for over two thirds of the government’s R&D budget.
What role should public sector research establishments play?
PSREs as R&D Institutes with a mission to support government objectives and sponsored directly by government departments will be levers in delivering Science and Technological Advantage.
PSREs provide a national strategic resource in key areas of scientific research, inform policy making and perform statutory and regulatory functions. They interact with businesses around a wide array of innovation-related functions [and can also provide emergency response functions].
The strengths of our rich landscape of PSREs and the ambition to make the most of these strengths captured within the ambitions set out in the R&D Roadmap and subsequent R&D strategies.
These strategies have committed to explore opportunities to do more to maximise this role as part of wider improvements to the R&D system, in part through increased visibility of the role they play. For example, through the commissioning of an Independently led review of the RDI Organisational Landscape, and the expansion of eligibility to PSREs for UKRI funding opportunities.
What role should universities play?
Universities are a key and substantial part of the UK’s successful and internationally competitive research base. Universities currently account for 24% of R&D undertaken in the UK.
They create new knowledge which is relevant to innovative businesses, and which supports public services (including NHS) and public policy, generate knowledge-based spinouts and start-ups, which are helping to grow future technologies and job opportunities; and provide highly skilled researchers into the economy, as well as attracting internationally mobile R&D investment into the UK.
Increasing the contribution of our universities, and university-business collaboration in particular, are critical to achieving the ambitions of our R&D Roadmap, Innovation Strategy and Plan for Growth – both to achieving the ambition for the UK to spend 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027, as well as those for skills, enhanced productivity and supporting Levelling Up.
How should state funding be used to leverage private sector funding?
State funding should be used to address market failures that preclude business investment in R&D, and where we can achieve public good. Acting when the private sector would not act on its own, the state can play a key role in de-risking investment for industry partners – galvanising investment in priority areas such as Net Zero and Levelling Up, and directing investment to areas where the UK can develop strategic advantage, such as the seven technology families.
Public funding also helps create an enabling ecosystem for innovation in the UK, such as world-class regulation, skills and infrastructure. This gives businesses the right conditions to innovate, and in turn the confidence to invest in R&D. For example, early government investment in offshore wind helped to shape the UK’s market – accelerating the deployment of new technologies and driving improvements in productivity.
To support the adoption of foundational digital technologies, government is launching Help to Grow: Digital, which aims to support 100,000 small businesses to adopt digital technologies that will save them time and money, helping them recover from the pandemic.
Our Innovation Strategy sets out the Government’s vision to make the UK a global hub for innovation by 2035. It aims to boost private sector investment across the whole of the UK, which is critical to achieve our target of 2.4% of GDP being invested in R&D by 2027.
Through the Strategy, we have committed to act in areas such as access to finance, regulation and public procurement, creating the conditions for all businesses to innovate. These actions are set out under four pillars:
This is just the starting point, and over the coming months and years we will continue to build an enabling environment for private sector investment in R&D.
Following the Spending Review, we are also ensuring that government funding attracts private investment, including from overseas. For example, we have increased funding for core Innovate UK programmes, reaching c.£1 billion per year by 2024/25, which are successful in securing private sector leverage.
Engagement with a wide range of stakeholders, will continue, to identify, explore and pursue new opportunities to attract private-sector investment in UK R&D. One way in which we will do this is through our recently established Business Innovation Forum, which will galvanise action from the business community and drive implementation of the Innovation Strategy.
What policies could incentivise private sector research spending in the UK? Are there international examples the UK could learn from?
The primary objective of the UK Innovation Strategy is to boost private sector investment across the whole of the UK, creating the right conditions for all businesses to innovate and giving them the confidence to do so. Pillar 1 of the Strategy in particular sets out the steps we are taking to create an ecosystem that encourages and enables all UK businesses to innovate – from improving access to finance and developing world-class regulation to attracting more foreign direct investment and using procurement to drive innovation.
To meet our ambitions to be a global innovation hub by 2035, it’s crucial that we learn from best practice elsewhere. Other countries – in both the public and private sectors – are investing boldly in innovation. Looking to the ambitious approaches of countries such as South Korea, Israel and the US can help us learn and adapt to increase private investment in innovation.
What more could be done to incentivise collaborations between academics and industry? Are there barriers preventing this collaboration that could be removed?
Building on and increasing the contribution of university-business collaboration is critical to achieving the ambitions of our Innovation Strategy and R&D Roadmap – to achieving the 2.4% ambition by 2027, as well as those for green growth, enhanced productivity and supporting levelling up.
UK universities and their academics are working with businesses in a wide variety of ways, including through collaborative research projects; by providing access to facilities, equipment and Science Parks; through spinning out companies and licensing IP; and by providing support for the entrepreneurial activities of students and researchers.
Through UKRI, the Government has made a number of significant investments to support universities/academics, charities and businesses to work together, these include:
As well as through established Research Council and Innovate UK mechanisms, including funding to support academics to explore the potential to apply and commercialise their research.
And to incentivise further academic – business collaboration, we have included impact assessment in the Research Excellence Framework, introduced the Knowledge Exchange Framework, and supported the sector’s Knowledge Exchange Concordat.
What can be learnt from local innovation ecosystems, such as the Cambridge Science Park?
Research carried out by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research has shown that geographically and technologically proximate firms undertaking R&D benefit from spillover of knowledge and ideas. This can boost innovation and foster idea creation among firms in neighbouring areas and across the chains of integrated industries.
The Levelling Up White Paper announced that we will invest £100 million to pilot new Innovation Accelerators. Innovation Accelerators will support three UK city regions to become globally competitive centres for research and innovation by investing in high-quality projects to grow R&D strengths, attracting private investment, boosting innovation diffusion, and maximising the combined economic impact of R&D institutions.
Alongside delivering Innovation Accelerators, we are examining the range of R&D clusters in places across the UK and identifying opportunities to help them grow.
What stage of the pipeline, from innovation to industry, is presenting the most significant problems for commercialising discoveries in the UK?
In recent years, UK universities have become more effective at commercialising their research and bringing discoveries to market. Their performance is now, when research resource is taken into account, competitive with the USA in terms of spinouts, patents, income from IP and proportion of industrial research.
However, some innovative science and technology companies still find it harder than we would like to access suitable finance. That is why; for early-stage companies, UKRI provides programmes such as Follow-on-Funding and Impact Acceleration Accounts to support researchers to establish the proof of concept for their innovations. And for growth-stage companies, the British Business Bank, backed by the Government, is crowding-in additional investment, for example through Future Fund: Breakthrough and the Life Sciences Investment Programme
UKRI’s new Commercialisation Funding Framework, an Innovation Strategy commitment, will also help the best ideas access the right support at the right stage of the pipeline.
What contribution should public procurement make to achieving the aims of the science and technology strategy?
Public procurement accounts for about a third of all public expenditure, with around £300 billion spent on goods and services every year. There is enormous potential to make better use of this spend to provide a route to market for innovative new products and services.
By procuring more innovative solutions, the public sector can be a driver of innovative new ideas, fuelling the scale-up ecosystem and facilitating wider adoption of new technology services. At the same time, procuring more innovative products and services can lead to better and cheaper public services in the long run.
We are ensuring that government procurement is proactive and long-term, signalling to industry our direction of travel. For example, in the Innovation Strategy we announced that UK Government departments and public sector delivery bodies will, where appropriate, produce a clear overall policy problem statement that describes the priority outcomes that they want to solve or achieve – aligning with the Public Value Framework. We are now continuing to work with colleagues in the Cabinet Office, IPA and other government departments to identify further to drive innovation through procurement.
This will be aided by ongoing government procurement reform through Cabinet Office post-EU Exit that aims to simplify the process, increase flexibility and enable public bodies to procure more innovative solutions from industry.
The UK takes a leading role in collaboration on research. In Summer 2021, under the G7 UK Presidency, we negotiated the G7 Research Compact which committed members to address barriers to research cooperation so we can respond more effectively to future crises. The UK is engaging with our G7 partners to ensure the legacy of the Compact, and building on these commitments in wider multilateral fora – such as the G20 and OECD.
We plan to set out a new approach to the UK’s tech leadership on the global stage later this year. As the Foreign Secretary recently stated in her Chatham House speech, we are joining forces with our friends and partners to shape regulation and standards in areas like quantum, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and to promote protection of intellectual property and the free flow of data.
We have successfully delivered bilateral initiatives including; partnering with South Korea on ‘smart cities’ (which will support our levelling up agenda): Last year we launched the first ever joint innovation calls with Japan and we are looking to build on this; a £65 million UK investment in the world-leading Deep Underground Neutrino (DUNE) experiment in the US and; over £20 million of UK funding to support a range of bilateral collaborations with Canada; also, in China we are working with the British Academy to understand the path for a just transition to a decarbonisation over the next 20-30 years. Working with the Department of International Trade, we are also looking to agree Innovation Chapters with international partners as part of upcoming FTA negotiations, and we have recently finalised the first such agreement with Australia. This is part of wider work to implement the Innovation Strategy and improve our overall offer on international innovation.
In which areas of science and technology is collaboration, or negotiating access to existing projects, more appropriate than competition or seeking comparative advantage?
We are taking an evidence-based approach to prioritising partnerships that will be most beneficial. It will highlight priority collaborative partnerships which will be developed to address shared challenges. These efforts will be informed by the principles for international collaboration set out in the Integrated Review. We will also work to ensure that our international collaborations are “as open as possible and as secure as necessary”, and that we make informed decisions for emerging and transformational technologies in-line with the 'own-access-collaborate' framework.
The own-collaborate-access framework will help guide strategic decisions on building and using capability in priority areas of S&T – first, where the potential for social and economic benefit is greatest, or progress helps tackle the most pressing global challenges and second, where the UK is capable of establishing a leading position, or future dependence on non-allied sources of supply carries unacceptable risks to our national interests.
The categories are not mutually exclusive. “Ownership” will inevitably require an element of “collaboration” and “access” too. But the categories can guide choices about the areas of S&T that matter. The Government’s role in delivering the framework is as an enabler of the private sector and wider S&T community, including as a user and acquirer of technology.
The Innovation Strategy identified seven technology families where the UK has a globally competitive R&D and industrial strength. Within these seven technology families are technologies that offer the potential to develop self-healing materials, advance diagnostics & disease cures, harness cells as nanotechnology factories, create a new generation of hydrogen fuels and dissolvable plastics, deliver solar power in space and provide carbon sequestration & clean nuclear fusion energy generators.
The families provide a starting point for prioritisation. Attempting to lead in every technology within each family will likely prevent us attaining a world-leading edge in any one area. We will need to prioritise investments at a granular level, considering factors like UK comparative advantage, transformative potential, and security and societal need. Learning from the success of vaccine development we must be decisive in backing these priorities and be agile in reviewing those we back where circumstances change.
Strategic advantage through science and technology in the UK’s economy will require focus on a small number of big propositions and the OCA framework will provide one mechanism to help us make these decisions.
4 April 2022