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CaSE analysis of 2019 Labour manifesto

27 Nov 2019

We take a look at what Labour policies could mean for UK science and engineering

The Labour party’s manifesto was published late last week, alongside a supporting document outlining how the party plans to fund its policies.

Increased innovation support from a Labour Government

The Labour party has reaffirmed its commitment to increase research intensity in the UK to 3% of GDP by 2030, with the party keenly focused on a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. The party has firmly committed to ensuring that long-standing energy intensive UK industries, such as steel and glass manufacturers, will be supported in making the transition to being clean and sustainable. The manifesto states that the party will meet its research intensity target by increasing direct investment in R&D and ‘reforming the innovation ecosystem’ to better attract private investment. We are also pleased to see that the party plans to use public procurement as a means for driving innovation.

There is little indication within the manifesto about how the party plans to undertake these reforms, and which parts of the funding landscape it refers to. However, with the language in the manifesto focussed around innovation and the ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ we will be working to highlight to the Labour Party the importance of discovery research to ensure complementary funding increases across the entirety of UK research funding streams, mindful of the balance of research funding.

One policy that is clear, however, are Labour’s plans to reform the R&D tax credit system. Within the accompanying funding document, the party outlines plans to phase out R&D tax credits for large corporations and the abolition of the Patent Box. With savings from tax breaks, the party plans on increasing direct funding of R&D through its National Transformation Fund. While some remain critical of R&D tax credits, members and businesses have told us the R&D tax credit regime is a competitive strength of the UK. The UK must compete for globally mobile businesses in an increasingly competitive world, and business support mechanisms are central to that. We would look forward to working with Labour to ensure that these reforms were indeed replaced by other means of innovation support, ensuring research intensive enterprise sees the UK as an attractive destination for investment.

Freedom of movement could remain under a Labour Brexit

On immigration policies that will affect the science and engineering sector, the Labour manifesto is somewhat light on detail. The party attacks current immigration policies without setting out how the party may plan to reform the immigration system. Labour does, however, outline that it would like to protect the rights of UK and EU citizens to move freely after Brexit. The opportunities for individuals to move freely between the UK and EU has been of great benefit to UK science and engineering, removing any bureaucracy in facilitating the movement of people and their ideas. We believe that a future immigration system, should there be comprehensive reform, should create opportunities for scientists and engineers to move with as little bureaucracy as possible and have an opportunity to work, study and collaborate across borders.

Labour plans for free education for all

As is a common theme across manifestos at this election, the Labour party have committed to increase funding for Further Education and providing lifelong learning opportunities. The party has gone beyond other commitments, however, in pledging to provide free lifelong learning entitlement to everyone up to Level 3 (A Level or equivalent) and six years of free training at Levels 4 – 6 (anywhere from a Higher Apprenticeship to an undergraduate degree).

This pledge has perhaps the biggest potential shift to the Higher Education sector than any other policy commitment made during this election campaign. The Labour party says it will scrap tuition fees in England and replace student loans with maintenance grants. The manifesto makes the explicit promise to ensure “all public HE institutions have adequate funding for teaching and research” but this will still cause nervousness around the future sustainability of English universities. In the academic year beginning 2016/17, English universities received over £10.3bn in income from tuition fees from UK students alone, accounting for almost a third of total income. Without this income being replaced in full by a Labour Government, universities would have to undertake cuts to other budgets, including research, ultimately damaging the opportunities for students.

The impact of any cut in funding for universities from teaching income could present a threat to the quality and quantity of research undertaken. HEPI analysis showed that in 2014/15, 13% of research undertaken in UK universities was funded by teaching surpluses, the equivalent to £1 for every £7 invested in research. Any policy changes resulting from the move to scrap tuition fees must be assessed for their impact on the UK’s research capability and its attractiveness as a global destination for science.