Welcome news from the Autumn Statement

Posted on: 24/11/2016

Investment in R&D will support commercialisation of innovation.

Investment in R&D will support commercialisation of innovation.

By Chris Warkup

The announcement of an additional £2bn of Government investment per year for research and development by the end of this Parliament represents a clear commitment to support innovation, technical and scientific excellence – and vitally, the commercialisation of that innovation and excellence, wherever it can be found in the UK.

Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement contained some important signals about changing government priorities. For the Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Network, the following key points from the announcement were of particular relevance:

  • £1.1bn extra investment in English local transport networks;
  • £220m to reduce traffic pinch points;
  • £2bn per year by 2020 for research and development funding;
  • £110m for East West Rail and commitment to deliver Oxford to Cambridge Expressway;
  • More than £1bn for digital infrastructure and 100% business rates relief on new fibre infrastructure;
  • £1.8bn from Local Growth Fund to English regions;
  • Rural Rate Relief to be increased to 100%, “giving small businesses a tax break worth up to £2,900”;
  • £400m into venture capital funds through the British Business Bank to unlock £1bn in finance for growing firms.

As the Prime Minister, Theresa May, put it in her speech to the CBI on Monday, the government aims to create ‘the conditions where winners can emerge and grow… and are delivering jobs and economic growth to every community and corner of the country.’

Part of the £2bn will help launch a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which will provide investment for priority technologies, where the UK has potential to convert leading research capabilities into global industrial and commercial advantages.

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Every budget or fiscal statement is a balancing act, of course, and this one will have been no different, but against a very challenging backdrop of our poor productivity and the challenges ahead, it is a very welcome step that the Chancellor announced extra funding for research development and innovation.

More important than the figures announced are the remarks made around them. It is refreshing to hear a clear recognition that whilst we are good at creating novelty and intellectual assets, we are less good at capturing the value in what we create. Doing a better job of this requires more investment in translational science and innovation. So it is very pleasing to see that the additional funds are to be invested in innovation, applied science and research to support collaborations between business and the UK science base.

I do not recall ever seeing those words in that order from past Chancellors, and it is great to have recognition that a sound platform of excellent discovery science is essential, but not sufficient if we are to build a knowledge-based economy. That said, it is instructive to remember that this about-turn on innovation funding still leaves the UK below the EU average of 1.95% of GDP and the OECD average of 2.38% of GDP.

Linking the science funding with the additional funds for investment in industry scale-up and further funding for Local Enterprise Partnerships will depend on objective evidence about capability. This presents a solid opportunity for the Smart Specialisation Hub – which works with LEPs to create an evidence base for regional innovation cluster investment – to rise to the challenge of being the key trusted resource for validated data.

The Knowledge Transfer Network is committed to helping businesses and local areas to exploit and make the most of these new opportunities. We are looking forward to the imminent publication of the new Industrial Strategy and to working closely with our members and Government to implementing it successfully.


Chris Warkup is CEO of Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Network. With thanks to Viola Hay, Steve Welch, and Lyuba Stoyanova for their contributions to this piece.





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