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Lord David Willetts: Securing the UK’s future industrial success

Lord David Willetts

24 May 2017

The way the UK promotes innovation and research should be fundamentally altered to enable us to bring new technologies to market, according to former Science and Universities Minister Lord David Willetts.

He called for a network of new research institutes to capitalise on original research and bring new technologies to new markets, in a speech at SCI (the Society of Chemical Industry) this evening.

He said the UK scores high in curiosity driven research taking place in universities, but is weak on funding the institutions that deliver applied research, which can then be commercialised.

And he said the Government should be prepared to bear the risk of applied research rather than depending on businesses to fund their own research.

“The fundamental responsibility of government is to bear risk, to take science from the laboratory to the market place. It is not the role of companies.”

He said it was vital that we achieve the more successful application of science, both in more innovative large companies and through successful start-ups and scale ups.

He contrasted US companies on the Fortune 500 lists, which were generally different from those 30-40 years ago, to those in Europe, which have virtually no new entrants.

Lord Willetts welcomed the Government’s recently published Industrial Strategy, and called for an expansion of the network of Catapult Institutes which have been founded by Innovate UK to connect businesses with the UK’s research and academic communities.

Introducing Lord Willetts, Sharon Todd, SCI Executive Director, said: “Following the Brexit vote, the UK needs to develop an Industrial Strategy that will deliver both long term economic value and societal benefit.

“The UK needs an Industrial Strategy that fosters science and innovation, funds research, recruits the best talent, and provides a competitive base for business.
“It needs to once more bring together scientists of all disciplines with entrepreneurs in an environment that enables invention and success.

“The Industrial Strategy should draw on the history and experiences of SCI and embrace the whole spectrum of industry, including infrastructure and energy, to rebalance the economy for long-term growth.”

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