The Government has published a Science and Technology Framework, which it calls “our plan to cement the UK as a global science & technology superpower by 2030”. The Framework is an important piece of work, informed by the R&D community, that sets out how Government can achieve a step change in UK prosperity and wellbeing through science and technology. It contains a number of things CaSE have been calling for and recommended over the last several years, including in our five-point roadmap to becoming a ‘science superpower’. One of the best actions the Government can now take is to stick to the Framework giving the research community and the private sector the stability – and predictability – it needs to invest in research and innovation. We’ve had too many short term funding announcements over the past few years.
The Science and Technology Framework
08 Mar 2023
Deputy Executive Director
The Framework came with funding announcements of £370m, which DSIT said was new money. However, it is not close to replacing the £1.6bn lost to the R&D budget a few weeks ago and there is nothing on that returning – even when the Secretary of State was pressed during her statement in the Commons.
The Framework contains 10 actions that the Government will focus on. It then sets out a vision and ongoing work for each action. Below we’ve taken a look at each action and offer some analysis and thoughts:
CaSE's analysis of the 10 actions
The first action sets out five technologies that the Government wants to focus on. Unlike previous attempts with 8 great technologies and 7 strategic technologies this list comes with a rationale for why they were selected, which is positive. However, the previous 8 and then 7 technologies haven’t lasted that long as a Government focus – so now this Government has picked five it needs to stick to them. It’s important, however, that it does this in a way that doesn’t exclude other important areas that already exist or might emerge in the coming years.
The framework aims to create an environment where citizens “trust that science and technology can improve their lives”. This emphasis on public support, and need to communicate the value of R&D, aligns with CaSE’s recent study of public opinion which highlights the strong support for Government investment in R&D, but also the low visibility of R&D’s benefits – with just over 60% of people either agreeing that “R&D doesn’t benefit people like them” or feeling neutral or unsure about R&D’s impacts.
They also want the UK to poll as a top 3 nation in the world for strength of R&D – a good start would be association to Horizon Europe, but more on that later.
The Government has pledged £20bn of public investment by 2024/25 in research and development (although it is not clear how the missing £1.6bn fits in to this). It will also be crucial to encourage further private investment in R&D to meet the Government’s ambitions. The ambition to raise public investment outside the greater south-east from the levelling-up white paper also gets re-stated here. This will be vital to ensuring that the benefits from increased investment in Science and Technology are seen right across the country.
It is also crucial that projects that build research capacity and links between universities and innovative businesses are not lost in the transition between EU structural funds and the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund that replaces them. This is a real risk that has been recently highlighted by Universities Alliance. We have previously shown how important these projects are to local economic growth in our report The Power of Place.
Skills will be crucial to meeting the Government’s ambitions. We are carrying out a piece of work on how the Government can unblock some of the sticking points. It is great that the new department have recognised the different factors involved– immigration, upskilling and re-skilling, the skills pipeline – and there will need to be coordination across Government. However, there is nothing on the cost of visas, which are amongst the most expensive when compared to comparable countries, for scientists and innovators who want to come to the UK.
There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that innovative companies get access to the support and investment they need, particularly to be able to scale-up. Early steps have been made to unlock funding from pension funds through the Patient Capital Review but this has taken a long time and more can be done. It is also important that changes to the R&D tax credit scheme don’t discourage investment by small innovative businesses. There is also an issue with lack of lab space for growing businesses which needs to be addressed.
The public sector is a huge procurer so there is lots of opportunity here – something we pointed out in our report Building on Scientific Strength published in 2019. Public procurement can act as the market ‘pull-through’ for innovations as long as departments are supported to make clear their technological needs.
There is nothing in this action about securing the UK’s association to Horizon Europe. This is a huge gap – the R&D community are as one in calling for the UK to associate to European research programmes. Yet the Government have struck a notably lukewarm tone in recent days as barriers to association have been lifted. Sir Paul Nurse called it “essential” in his review.
Association to Horizon Europe will accelerate achievement, not just of this action, but of the whole framework. It does not preclude an ambitious global position for the UK in research and innovation, but in fact enhances and enables it. So the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister must leave aside reticence and use the coordinating power of the new Department to expedite agreement on the UK’s research relationship with Europe that will underpin the global success of the framework.
There is a welcome mention of public sector research establishments here – a crucial but often overlooked part of the research system that can provide access to important infrastructure, amongst other things. In our report on PSREs we discussed the need for the Government to take a more strategic approach to their use. Cross-Europe collaborations through Horizon Europe association will also be critical as some pieces of research infrastructure are too large or expensive to be held/hosted by one country.
In our report Building Scientific Strength we set out that embracing innovation in new areas of regulation will be essential to secure first mover advantage in new and emerging sectors and technologies. If UK regulation is not able to keep pace, or provide the opportunity for companies to develop, test and roll out innovation in the UK environment, there is a risk that these activities and subsequent market advantage, jobs and benefit will be located elsewhere. This means assessing the impact of policy and regulatory decisions on research and innovation. This will require proactive adoption, coordination, communication and training in departments.
This action talks about continuing to implement the science capability review and increasing the number of people with a STEM background in the Civil Service fast stream, in order to make sure that Government has the expertise and knowledge it needs to take full advantage of innovation to meet policy aims. It is important that all parts of Government have the R&D capability needed to address the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
CaSE takes a look at the Government’s response to Sir Paul Nurse’s independent review of the UK’s research development and innovation organisational landscape.
What does the 2023 Autumn Statement mean for research and innovation?
CaSE looks back at George Freeman’s tenure as Minister of State for Science, Technology and Innovation, and welcomes new Science Minister Andrew Griffith.
Our insights from the Conservative and Labour Party Conferences and some of the messages that emerged for research and innovation.