In his foreword to the Government’s new Innovation Strategy this week, Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State, BEIS, is right to state ‘Innovation is central to the largest challenges the world faces from climate change and the ageing society to global pandemics.’
He goes on to say that, post Brexit, the UK is well placed to be in the vanguard of the response to these challenges. Indeed, ‘the UK can look back on a proud history of changing the world through innovation. From the Industrial Revolution to the vaccine development of the past year, the impact on our everyday lives is undeniable’.
Clearly, the ambition is in the Strategy, with talk of making the UK ‘a global science superpower’ but where is the detail? We value a report which highlights the importance of science and innovation in enhancing our economic prosperity and addressing societal problems but where is the time-bounded action plan? The Government has committed to investing £22 billion a year in R & D but what will be achieved by 2024/5? How will we evaluate impact?
For 140 years, the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) has been the place ‘where science meets business’, helping drive innovation at pace and scale and getting products to market. So we are surprised to see chemistry only alluded to once in the Innovation Strategy - by way of a quote by Nobel prize winning chemist Marie Curie - “nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” If we are truly to become a science superpower, we must not forget the chemical industry underpins the majority of science and therefore most of all innovation. In 2019, the DIT valued the aerospace sector at £33bn whereas the chemistry industries was at £53 bn.
Most importantly, chemicals and chemistry enable supply chains. Without these, there can be no ‘science superpower.’ This week, the House of Lords recognised the importance of the battery supply chain in the drive towards the electrification of cars. Resilient UK manufacturing will need vital local supply chains to be successful so the absence of this supply chain consideration in the Strategy is worrying.
The UK has led the world with its vaccine rollout during the Pandemic so let’s embed the vital supply chain – and the chemistry from which it is derives – at the heart of this Innovation Strategy. We will be following the Strategy’s progress over the coming months. Marie Curie called for ‘understanding’ and so do we – an understanding of the detail needed to ensure this Innovation Strategy supports UK manufacturing to Build Back Better in the coming months - and years.
David Bott, Head of Innovation, SCI