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A look ahead at 2024

A General Election year presents a real opportunity for the R&D sector to make our voices heard.

30 Jan 2024

Daniel Rathbone

Interim Executive Director

As we head into a General Election year we have a real opportunity as an R&D sector to make our voices heard. Politicians and policymakers across all parties are making plans for the next five years, and now is the time for us to set out our vison for how research and innovation can benefit the whole of the UK.

However, it’s not going to be easy. There will be many other loud voices and worthy causes, vying for the attention of politicians and the public. If you look at the news headlines on any given day, you will be met with numerous and varied challenges facing the country including climate change and extreme weather, NHS waiting lists and the continuing rise in the cost of living. At the same time the Institute for Fiscal Studies have said that the next Government “is likely to face some of the most difficult economic and fiscal choices the UK has faced outside of pandemics and major crises”.

So how do we rise to this challenge and what issues should our sector be highlighting? Here at CaSE we are continuing with our strong advocacy work, with a focus on ambitious and sustainable R&D funding, people and skills including immigration, business investment in R&D, and regional R&D investment.

Running through all this will be the lessons we have learnt from the extensive polling and focus groups we have delivered through our Discovery Decade programme. This landmark study of public opinions on R&D has shown us that, in general, arguments that linked R&D to a tangible place and a tangible problem even if this solution is a long way off – help win the public over. By strengthening these links, we can ensure R&D demonstrates its relevance to people’s communities and the issues that matter to them.

We start our advocacy from a promising position. The public see R&D as a relevant tool for solving lots of different problems in society, including tackling climate change and improving the quality of the NHS, and more than half of people felt that R&D was either essential or important for addressing the cost of living. Furthermore, when it comes to talking about how much public money should be invested into R&D, the public trust voices from within the R&D sector itself to be honest about the investment needed, despite being conscious of the potential for self-interest. Researchers, research charities and universities strongly outperform politicians as messengers on R&D investment, with businesses falling somewhere in between. Over the coming months, we will be publishing new advocacy resources and tools that can help our sector reach new public audiences with a clear and compelling message.

In our strong policy analysis and advocacy work we will be engaging with all political parties as we move through the year. Working in partnership with the British Academy, we are commissioning a piece of economic analysis on the value of R&D to help us make the necessary economic arguments ahead of a likely post-election spending review. We will also focus on universities; a keystone of the UK R&D system that is under pressure, including from changes to immigration rules that make it harder for the best global talent to come to the UK. An unsustainable university system risks damaging the ability of both the private and public sector to research and innovate.

Last year saw some great successes for UK science: a dedicated ministerial team and government department, re-joining Horizon Europe, and continued commitment to R&D investment. While there are challenges ahead, including on the sustainability of research funding, I hope that during this election year we can continue this positive trajectory and build broad cross-party support for R&D in the UK.

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