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CaSE analysis of 2019 Liberal Democrat manifesto

26 Nov 2019

We take a look at Liberal Democrat policies that have an impact on the science and engineering sector

Wednesday saw the publication of the Liberal Democrat manifesto in a year that has seen MPs from across the house leave their respective parties to bolster the Lib Dem ranks. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats now count a former Conservative Science Minister within their ranks, so the manifesto provided us with the first opportunity to see the party’s vision to enhance UK science and engineering with its new Prospective Parliamentary Candidates.

Long-term research investment with a roadmap

In 2017, the Lib Dems made a commitment to ‘double research intensity in the long-term’. In their 2019 manifesto, the Lib Dems have pledged to increase the UK’s research intensity to 3% of GDP, but with no time frame attached. However, the party have set an interim aim to grow research investment to at least 2.4% of GDP by 2027. The other crucial element to this pledge is the commitment to publish a roadmap to reach this ambition, something we called for in our Manifesto for Science and Engineering. It is pleasing to see that the party recognises the importance of a long-term plan and hope that the other parties follow suit in committing to develop detailed plans.

The manifesto also includes some more detail as to how the party envisions increasing public investment in research. The Lib Dems have described a goal to double innovation spending across the economy and to increase funding of the Strength in Places Fund. In roundtables we conducted last year, business we spoke to highlighted the importance of Innovate UK in the funding landscape. The new Strength in Places Fund proved to be particularly popular during the first wave of funding and we understand the quality of bids was extremely high with many exceptional bids left unfunded, so the increased focus on this is also welcome. In a world where the Lib Dems are pledging to greatly increase research intensity in the UK, we would hope that increased funding of innovation and the Strength in Places Fund would complement funding increases across the entirety of UK research funding streams, being mindful of the balance of research funding and ensuring that no parts of the research base were neglected at the expense of these increases.

Liberal Democrat vow to reform non-EEA work route

The position of the Lib Dems on Brexit is well known, and as a result they have no additional policies for the future of immigration for UK and EU citizens moving across the continent. They have, however, outlined some significant reforms of the current non-EEA immigration system in their manifesto. Firstly, the party pledge to replace Tier 2 work visas, the primary route into skilled employment for people outside the EEA. With little detail in the manifesto, the Lib Dems have pledged to introduce “a more flexible merit-based system”. The Lib Dems have also committed to ensuring that students will be able to stay and work in the UK following the completion of their studies by means of a two-year post-study work visa.

The party have also outlined their plans to radically overhaul policymaking powers for work and study visas, by pledging to remove these powers from the Home Office and give them to BEIS and the Department for Education, respectively. They have also committed to establishing a new non-political arms-length body to take over the processing of visa applications. Our vision for a future immigration system is to ensure that the UK can continue to attract and facilitate the movement of people and ideas to enhance UK science and engineering. In any eventuality, we will work with all political parties to ensure that immigration works for our sector, while making sure changes to the immigration system will not cause any additional burden on employers and individuals.

Pledges to support Further Education and adult learning

The Lib Dems have also made commitments in education, but it is worth bearing in mind that a UK Government only has the ability to make policy change in England due to the devolved nature of education policy. In step with recommendations made in the Augar Review, the party has pledged to invest a further £1bn in Further Education colleges and bring a new focus to adult learning. The party has pledged to introduce new ‘Skills Wallets’ for every adult in England with a value of £10,000 over the period of working life. Independent work commissioned by the Industrial Strategy Council showed that one in five workers could be under-skilled in their roles by the end of the next decade, highlighting the importance of proactive and on-the-job training opportunities.