09 October 2018

Jeremy Clayton is a member of the CaSE Board of Directors and was previously BIS Director responsible for research funding and policy during the Coalition Government. As the 2019 Spending Review approaches, he reflects on how best to influence key decision-makers.

It is hard to influence a Spending Review. There are big economic and political forces at play which cannot be wished away. The demands for more expenditure on health, social care, education, housing, police, prisons and defence will be deafening. Higher education may cost the Government more if the accounting treatment of student loans is changed, in which case offsetting savings may need to be found including potentially from universities. And then there are the transitional costs and net loss of Government income likely to arise from Brexit, which are likely to create at least a short term hit to Government finances.

But there are still ways in which businesses, universities, research institutes, researchers and charities can influence outcomes on science and innovation, and some are more effective than others. Based on my own experience inside the Spending Review tent I offer six suggestions.

First, get inside the Government’s head and understand its strategic aims and political drivers, and so far as possible help it to achieve them. In the case of science, amongst other things Government will be thinking about

  • how to deliver the aim of R&D (public plus private) spend reaching 2.4% of GDP by 2027
  • maintaining or improving the UK’s attractiveness to global researchers and research-intensive businesses in a post-Brexit world
  • maintaining strong international research and innovation relationships, in particular but not only with EU countries
  • building domestic STEMM skills further and
  • ensuring that all parts of the UK build on their research and innovation strengths to generate prosperity.

The Government will be particularly concerned to ensure that private R&D spend grows at least proportionately with the assumed growth in public spend (private R&D spend is currently about twice public R&D spend). Good evidence-based ideas for achieving this will be welcome.

Second, provide the best possible analysis and evidence, which show that your proposals are genuinely likely to generate additional net benefit to the UK, taking account of knock-on effects and offsets. So far as you can, set out and quantify intangible benefits as well. And be succinct! – keep it on one piece of paper if possible, using clear compelling graphs and charts. Most external submissions to Spending Reviews are, at most, skimmed because of the pressure of time on officials.

Third, work through influencers who have established and effective relationships with Government. For example, the CBI, UUK, the National Academies, the AMRC, the National Council for Universities and Business (NCUB) and of course CaSE itself.  From my experience within BIS in the 2015 Spending Review I know that CaSE was one of the most effective influencers because of its understanding of the data and the strategic context, and because of its high quality evidence-based analysis. If you are a key influencer already, build alliances and work with others. When a number of key influencers give a consistent evidence-based and strategically astute input, its force is disproportionately multiplied. When they compete with each each, which I saw happen in 2010, it can be very damaging to the interests of science.

Fourth, avoid special pleading and be careful about your tone. For example, researchers and universities are not universally admired by politicians, and appearing to present your value as self-evident will harm your cause. Sectoral or regional business interests also face the risk of special pleading.
Fifth, take opportunities to engage and build relationships with key players in Government – in particular in BEIS, UKRI and the Treasury. For example if Greg Clark, Sam Gyimah, Gareth Davies or Sir Mark Walport has visited your research park or business and is wowed by your vision – a vision which will also help Government achieve its strategic goals - then you have got through the starting gate. And if you are a business or a charity which can put money on the table to invest in new research facilities or programmes then it is worth exploring whether a match-funding deal might be reached which creates beneficial leverage for both public and private/third sector participants.

Sixth, so far as possible maintain a consistent slow-burn message throughout the process, starting as soon as possible. But at the same time be ready to seize opportunities to increase the profile of your message when events allow or at critical points. And critical points can be very late in the process – in the 2010 Spending Review it appeared almost certain that the outcome for the BIS science budget would be disastrous and it was only as the clock approached midnight that last minute interventions saved the day and achieved flat cash (a lot better than most departments got!).

CaSE will be putting on a number of discussion events for members during the Spending Review period, including a workshop for members with input from Sir John Kingman next week. If you are not a member and would like to benefit from an inside track in understanding the issues and how best to engage then why not join now?

Jeremy is a member of the CaSE Board, and sits on the Council of the University of East Anglia.

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