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19th February 2020
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Make do and mend budget

Posted 20/03/2013 by cgodfrey

Even ahead of this week’s UK budget announcement, the country’s biggest union Unite was calling on the chancellor George Osborne to come up with a ‘game-changing’ plan to make good his promise to put manufacturing at the forefront of Britain’s plans for economic recovery. ‘As part of the budget, Britain needs a strategic manufacturing plan but the government seems a long way off from developing one,’ it warned.

The UK has been and still is an important innovation hub, as a recent poll by the Science Museum, the GREAT Britain campaign, Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society, British Science Association and department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Engineering UK sets out to remind us by encouraging the nation to vote for the best British innovation of the past 100 years. Among the many contenders from penicillin to computing and the jet engine is the paper by William Bragg on X-ray crystallography, which made some of the other innovations on the shortlist possible, published a century ago this year in 1813.

But while Britain’s inventiveness has long been celebrated, successive governments have been urged repeatedly to do more to stop ideas invented here being exported and commercialised overseas. The importance of investing in fledgling technologies is made particularly clearly by a comment by Brunel University professor Poopathy Kathirgamanathan (‘PK’) in a feature about the huge and growing market for flat panel displays, currently dominated by liquid crystals (C&I, 2013, 4, 16) in next month’s issue of C&I. Towards the end of the story, PK is quoted as saying: ‘Just over 15 years ago, in response to the country’s economic crisis, South Korea took borrowed $55bn from the IMF to fund the development of display technology. Last year the country paid back the final $1m instalment on the loan. That is amazing and shows how South Korea values technology and why it forms the basis of its economy.’

Chancellor George Obsborne should take heed: Britain’s banking and service sectors aren’t a sustainable solution and they won’t rescue the economy alone. According to Unite, meanwhile, the latest poor UK manufacturing output figures are a warning that a triple dip recession is a genuine threat.

Cath O’Driscoll, Deputy editor

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