SCI Manifesto: UK economy will be blown away by fast-moving rivals without an urgent Science & Innovation Strategy

14 August 2023


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  • Party leaders must adopt the Manifesto for an Industrial Science & Innovation Strategy to ‘prevent economic stagnation’, warns SCI chief executive Sharon Todd
  • Proposals support the commercialisation of science’s whole lifecycle – from a legally binding ministerial commitment on minimum levels of R&D spending to large-scale production incentives
  • ‘Detailed, focused industrial strategy’ is needed to make sure the UK does not lose out on £230bn and 240,000 jobs by 2030 alone

14 August 2023: The UK risks ‘losing the race to becoming a science superpower’ by attracting investment to stimulate economic growth. SCI, a charity which has advanced the commercial application of science since 1881, is warning that the UK has fallen behind. A package of measures is needed to make the country a competitive place to invest in science and scientific industry, they say.

SCI’s Manifesto for an Industrial Science & Innovation Strategy, launched this morning, includes the call for a legal duty on ministers to spend 0.6% of GDP on research and development (R&D). The UK lags behind the OECD average of 0.46% – one of a litany of policy failures over the decades that have seen the country ‘literally leak revenue and jobs to our international rivals’.

SCI's Manifesto for An Industrial Science and Innovation Strategy
Download SCI's Manifesto for an Industrial Science & Innovation Strategy here.

Other proposed policy interventions include a mandate for pension schemes to invest in a superfund R&D intensive industry. The manifesto also argues for targeted businesses and tax credit incentives for largescale production facilities that provide jobs, attract greater investment in science commercialisation and help the UK hit net zero targets.

The US, for example, is revolutionising its industrial base through the Inflation Reduction Act, a significant package of measures aimed at stimulating investment and jobs. AstraZeneca has decided to locate a new $400m advanced manufacturing facility in Dublin rather than North-west England, because of Ireland’s more attractive financial regime and policy support for green industries. The UK risks losing £230bn of economic growth and 240,000 jobs in life sciences and clean tech alone by 2030 without a focused industrial strategy, according to SCI-commissioned research by L.E.K. Consulting earlier this year.

SCI argues that there must be cross-party agreement to adopt the manifesto in full, because the policies develop every stage of a science product’s lifecycle, from R&D to scale-up to mass production. Cross-party consensus is vital to provide the certainty businesses require to invest for the long-term – they need to know a future administration would not adopt damaging policies.

The policies, outlined in notes to editors below, also include the introduction of a Science & Growth Innovation Council. Comprised of science’s business leaders, the council would have a direct line to the prime minister and opposition leader of the day.

Sharon Todd (SCI's Manifesto for An Industrial Science and Innovation Strategy) 

SCI Chief Executive Sharon Todd said:

‘This is one of the most pivotal points in the UK’s treasured science and industrial history. If we stand still, our economy will be blown away by international rivals determined to revolutionise their science and industrial base. If we act, we might just have enough time to catch up, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and boosting the economy by hundreds of billions of pounds.

For decades, governments of all hues have failed to develop a detailed, focused industrial strategy that would prevent economic stagnation. We need cross-party agreement for this strategy, which nurtures every aspect of the science lifecycle, from R&D to largescale production. We have some of the greatest scientific brains and institutions in the world in the UK, but a lack of political commercial nous has meant that their great ideas are scaled-up and mass produced in other countries. The UK is literally leaking revenue and jobs to our international rivals.’

Liam Condon (SCI's Manifesto for An Industrial Science and Innovation Strategy) 

Commenting on the manifesto, Liam Condon, CEO of SCI Corporate Partner Johnson Matthey, said:

‘Addressing climate change by accelerating the net zero transition requires both innovation and supportive policy. The SCI has developed a roadmap that can help the UK lead the way, if we move with a strong sense of urgency.’

The Manifesto for Science & Innovation Strategy states:

‘There is no escaping that the UK is losing the race to becoming a science superpower… Huge investment decisions are being made by our neighbours, attracting capital that would be better placed in the UK. They have few advantages over us but that sense of urgency, which is enough to override any of our advantages in excellence.’

Notes to editors:

The main policies include:

  1. An Innovation & Science Growth Council – with a direct line to the prime minister – which can help the Government select Science Enterprise Zones and develop Innovation Implementation Act. This council’s guidance is crucial to every technology readiness level and during full scale manufacture.

  2. Simplifying R&D tax incentive schemes, while widening the scope to target activity that creates more skilled employment. The Government needs to take a lead in increasing investment, which is why ministers should have a duty to invest at least 0.6% of GDP in R&D.

  3. A more flexible visa scheme for scientists, who should be able to make their long-term home in the UK while being able to travel for long periods as part of their employment.

  4. Reform of technology transfer offices, so that universities are mandated to back a minimum number of spinouts and founders are more likely to accept financial terms.

  5. Incentives for venture capital to invest in scientific start-ups.

  6. Liberalising pension fund investment rules, so that they are able to back more high-growth science and technology firms. This should include the creation of a growth superfund, in which schemes are mandated to invest.

  7. A tax incentive for strategically important projects that ramp up production of scientific products and boost the economy. This would reduce the risk of losing major facilities to other countries, a situation that can be further averted by a competitive, stable rate of corporation tax.

  8. Tax credits for largescale projects that can be shown to help the UK reach its net zero targets, aligned with the UK’s overall industrial strategy.

The report from LEK Consulting, UK Industrial Strategy: Scaling and Commercializing UK Science and Technology, commissioned by SCI in July 2023, is available here.

About SCI: where science meets business

SCI, a charity established in 1881, is an industrial innovation hub connecting industry, academia, and government to accelerate science-based solutions to the big societal challenges. Our community has over $500bn of sales and invests over $30bn in research and development globally every year and is at the coalface of working on solutions to climate change, global health, and sustainability.

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