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By David Lewis
The Coalition’s commitment to support science and technology was reinforced at last week’s Innovate UK 2014 conference in London. Referring to Chancellor George Osbourne’s science and innovation strategy paper, which will be published with the Autumn Statement to Parliament on 3 December 2014, Vince Cable commented that “Science and innovation feed into almost every industry you can think of, from car production to computing. That is why we are committed to supporting it, and will be outlining our strategy in December”
The importance of technology was further underpinned with £67m of funding to support British innovators who want to turn their ideas into commercial products. The Business Secretary is pledging £50m to seven new areas of technology where the government thinks Britain could take a leading role, such as quantum technologies, graphene, emerging imaging technologies, and the 3D printing of human organs. Support for academia was also provided through £17m of funding for up to 210 industrial PhDs, that Cable hopes will forge closer ties between business and academia. The funding is designed to address the so called “valley of death” where start-ups struggle to transition to revenues and profitability. “Ideas are the currency of innovation and we must ensure we are doing all in our power to help our scientists transform great ideas into world-beating products,” Cable added.
During the question session, Cable reflected that Government had become the UK’s largest technology VC, and that he wanted to encourage further investment from the private sector. Further questions on the challenges associated with bringing talented engineers into the UK were “tied to broader immigration issues” and were a “political hot potato” said Cable – the implication being that there won’t be changes any time soon.
During the conference Cable assured delegates that the current administration’s commitment to science and technology would be continued beyond 2015, irrespective of the election result. Cable maintains that he has the support of the other principle parties to continue this strategic commitment into the 56th Parliament.
The current Government has recognised the important role that science and technology plays in the growth of the UK’s economy. We have come a long way since the introduction of R&D tax credits and now have Patent Box to encourage commercialisation as well as development. At Cambridge Design Partnership, through our work with clients on grant funded projects, we have seen that The Technology Strategy Board has done a good job in bringing together the various agencies that seek to support technology, and we hope that under Innovate UK this process will continue. Our creative engineering teams generate intellectual property for our clients, and our close coordination with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has shown them to be increasingly business focussed in the way they operate. All this said, we have some catching up to do. In a recent study published by Thomson Reuters they identified the top 100 innovative companies by their patent activity. None were from the UK. Companies from Japan, USA, France, Germany and S. Korea were high on the list as these countries have long recognised and supported technology as an economic engine. Cable has given his assurances over continuity of support for our industry but is it enough? We will be closely monitoring the changing political landscape over the coming year to see if he is as good as his word.
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