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Innovation Strategy to the fore

Innovation has become the buzzword of the day. Secretary of State at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Kwasi Kwarteng, has masterminded a revamped Innovation Strategy whose primary purpose is to “cement the UK’s position as a world-leader in science, research and innovation”. The plan is backed by a thumping £22bn of Government funding for R & D, supplemented by additional investment from the private sector.

Bizarrely, COVID-19 must take some of the credit for his new initiative. Inspired by multiple examples of what can be achieved when we all pull together, the plan relies on cooperation, collaboration and the pooling of talent and resources. It is all about seizing the moment, using science and technology as the springboard.

Countless UK manufacturers have demonstrated their willingness to repurpose production lines, just as retailers have gone online and restaurants have switched to preparing food for collection or delivery. Finance and tax incentives are suddenly being made available for ambitious companies that want to upgrade their factories and upskill their workforces. The academic institutions and pharmaceuticals companies whose collaboration produced world-beating vaccines in record time have shown us the way.

Technologies that might otherwise have taken years to gain traction are suddenly being welcomed with open arms. The Government plan outlines seven strategic technologies to prioritise and build on our existing R & D strengths, including “clean technologies, robotics, genomics and AI, where the UK has globally competitive advantage and industrial strength”.

We have also been told to expect a new action plan on ‘Standards for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ which sits alongside an expanded IP education programme to encourage innovative companies and researchers to collaborate, export and invest overseas.

The BEIS makes no secret of the fact that the lessons learned and implemented by the Vaccine Taskforce will be applied to finding solutions to the UK’s relative decline in business R & D investment. Also, to rectifying skills gaps and creating a pro-business regulatory environment.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has pledged £127m through the Strength in Places Fund to finance five pioneering projects spread around Britain, including in Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Midlands and North of England.

As Mr Kwarteng himself points out, “we have not always turned our genius for innovation into jobs and companies here in Britain”. Let us hope the benefits of his plan reach the 5.9m SME businesses that account for 60% of employment and contribute half the turnover of Britain’s private sector. Every business wants, and deserves, the chance of a prosperous future.