UK government publishes full Innovation Strategy

Strategy aims to put the UK at the global forefront of science, research and innovation

The government’s Innovation Strategy, published today, aims to boost private sector investment in research and development (R&D) across the UK, and further outlines measures to support businesses and institutions at the cutting edge of innovation.

While many of the strategy’s individual aspects and projects have already been announced, the government today added more detail, outlining for the first time its overall approach to innovation.

For example, although the government had already committed to increasing annual public investment in R&D to a record £22bn in the March 2020 Budget, the strategy outlines how the private sector will be leveraged to further boost R&D spending, as well as how it will work with the public sector on science and technology projects.

The R&D rise builds on the government’s previous Industrial Strategy plans for the UK to spend 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027.

According to a government press release, the strategy is looking to the example of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, which it cites as a successful example of the public and private sectors working together.

By taking a more collaborative approach between the sectors, the government believes it can find solutions to a variety of “fundamental challenges”, including the relative decline in business R&D investment, the skills gaps and its desire for a pro-enterprise regulatory environment.

To achieve greater public-private collaboration, the government says it will set “innovation missions” to direct the private sector in what it is looking for. These missions will be determined by the new National Science and Technology Council and supported by the Office for Science and Technology Strategy.

“The UK can look back on a proud history of changing the world through innovation,” said business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. “From the industrial revolution to the vaccine development of the past year, the impact on our everyday lives is undeniable.

“That spirit of discovery is still alive in this country today, but we have not always turned our genius for innovation into jobs and companies here in Britain.

“The countries that secure leadership in such transformational technologies will lead the world, enjoying unrivalled growth, security and prosperity for decades to come – and it’s our job to ensure the UK keeps pace with the global innovation race.”

While Innovate UK and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have been tasked by Kwarteng with operationalising the strategy, the government will also work with universities and other research organisations, charities, catapults and public sector research establishments, among others.

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The strategy further outlines seven “strategic technologies” where its R&D investment efforts will focus, including clean technologies, robotics, genomics and artificial intelligence (AI).

Although it was not mentioned as part of the strategy, the government launched its Future Fund: Breakthrough programme on 20 July. This is a fund designed to target later-stage R&D-intensive firms in “breakthrough” tech sectors, including quantum computing, cleantech and life sciences, to fuel their continued growth.

“Through this long-term plan, we want to rekindle our country’s flame of innovation and discovery, helping businesses to seize the vast opportunities that innovation can bring,” said Kwarteng.

“If we get this right, we can build the foundations for the new industries of tomorrow, and ensure British firms are at the front of the pack to turn world-leading science into new products and services that are successful in international markets.”

Under the strategy, the government has also committed to commissioning the Regulatory Horizons Council to further consider how innovation can best be supported: introducing new “High Potential Individual” and “Scale-up” visa routes to attract and retain talent; investing £200m through the British Business Bank’s Life Sciences Investment Programme; and supporting 30,000 senior managers of small and medium-sized businesses through its Help to Grow: Management scheme.

To ensure businesses across the country can capitalise on the UK’s industrial strengths, the already announced Strength in Place Fund (delivered by UKRI) will be used to provide “five pioneering projects” with a share of £127m.

This includes £22.6m for the Advanced Machinery & Productivity Initiative, £18.3m for the Midlands Industrial Ceramics Group and £21.3m for the Digital Dairy Value-Chain project, which aims to create a more sustainable dairy industry by combining digital communications and advanced manufacturing.

“This strategy is an important step in ensuring innovation plays its full part in driving economic recovery and addressing the biggest challenges facing society, such as decarbonisation, levelling up and health,” said Felicity Burch, director of innovation at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). “We are pleased to see the scale of ambition and the focus on unleashing business innovation and investment.

“The commitment to increasing investment to £22bn for R&D provides an important signal to business ahead of the spending review that this government will work with business to deliver on the ambition set out in this strategy.

“The business community looks forward to working with government to translate this strategy into reality that results in the UK being a thriving innovation economy.”

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