Science, innovation and the UK
10 July 2017
Chris Hamer, partner at Mathys & Squire, argues that home-grown talent will be a key component for the UK to remain at the forefront of science and innovation.
Back in June, the United Kingdom awoke to the news that Theresa May’s call for a snap general election resulted in a hung parliament. This result clearly came as a shock to the UK and has resulted in continued uncertainty for the country, especially with regards to Brexit, and economic and domestic social issues. A deal was finally struck with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on Monday 26 June whereby Theresa May was able to form a working government held up by Arlene Foster’s Northern Irish party in exchange for £1.5 billion and a few concessions to the Tory manifesto. Despite the controversy of the deal, some sighed in relief to finally be able to get Brexit negotiations back on track and underway; whilst also bringing back a little stability to the country.
The agreement states that:
“The DUP agrees to support the government on all motions of confidence; and on the Queen’s speech; the Budget; finance bills; money bills, supply and appropriation legislation and estimates … the DUP also agrees to support the government on legislation pertaining to the UK’s exit from the EU and legislation pertaining to national security.”
But what is to be done vis-à-vis the original manifesto? We already know that in order to be propped up by the DUP, the Tories have had to drop changes to pensions triple lock as well as winter fuel payments in order to secure the working majority. But what of the rest of the manifesto?
The Conservative government had promised increased funding for research and development and university spin outs, as well as for a general increase in the number of scientists in the UK. Theresa May herself had put an emphasis on ‘science and innovation’. We strongly urge the newly formed government to continue with this promise and to look at how best universities should use some of this funding and resource to engage with commercial enterprises and businesses.
The potential increase in funding presents exciting opportunities, but also commercial challenges. Whilst research and fundamental knowledge are a priority for universities receiving funding, there is also a need for academics to increase their commercial focus. How might their innovation be applied in the real world? Where does their innovation actually fit commercially? Whilst university technology transfer offices have made a good start, we can only hope to see a greater focus on entrepreneurs and businesses (themselves benefitting from tax incentives) working closely with academics on how best to focus and commercialise their innovations, and maximise the potential for products and services forming the basis of many spin outs.
Whilst extra funding and resource in these areas are certainly needed, there is actually a real need to focus energy on developing a more balanced working relationship between the two. With Brexit negotiations recently underway, the UK will soon be more self-reliant and home-grown talent will be a key component for the country to remain at the forefront of science and innovation globally.
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