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expert reaction to Theresa May pledging an extra £2 billion to scientific research and development by 2020

In a speech to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Teresa May is to pledge an extra £2bn a year in funding for scientific research and development by 2020.


Steve Bates the CEO of the BIA, said:

“It’s fantastic to see this government showing an understanding of what is important to life science businesses. It’s great to see the continued commitment to research and development, but for us the focus on improving the R&D tax credit regime, the focus on patient capital, and the review of the small business research initiative are crucial and very welcome. The UK is becoming the location from which the global leading life science businesses of the future will grow.”


Prof. Stephen Curry, Vice-chair of Science is Vital and Professor of structural biology at Imperial College, London, said:

“I would broadly welcome Theresa May’s announcement today, though clearly the devil will be in the detail. It was good to hear her acknowledgement that, despite being among the very best in the world in terms of research output, “overall business and government investment remains lower than our competitors”, a story highlighted by Science is Vital – the UK remains at the bottom of the G8 nations in terms of %GDP invested in public R&D.

“It’s also appropriate that there should be a focus on facilitating the commercialisation of new knowledge as a way to tackle the stalled productivity levels of the UK economy, both by facilitating investment and experimenting with the use of government procurement to drive innovation (along the lines of the US model).

“I would like to hear even warmer words on immigration policy from Ms May because current government messaging is a threat to HE and high-tech sectors. But this is only the start of an important national conversation – how for example, is this policy shift going to benefit the regions of the UK that the Brexit vote showed to be left behind by the globalisation of the economy that seems primarily to have served the economy of London and the south-east.”


Prof. Philip Nelson, Chair of Research Councils UK, said:

“The prime minister’s announcement today is a welcome confirmation of the importance of research and innovation to the UK. The increase worth £2 billion a year for research and development by 2020 will help to close the investment gap with our international competitors and reinforce the attractiveness of our research system for business partners.

“This commitment also highlights the opportunities presented by the proposed creation of UK Research and Innovation. The new organisation should allow the UK to tackle challenges across multiple research areas and to accelerate commercialisation by through seamless working with Innovate UK. As a first step, the Research Councils will be working alongside Innovate UK to develop and deliver the new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

“The full details of the government’s commitment to increase research and development investment by £2 billion a year will become clear when the chancellor makes the Autumn Statement on Wednesday and we look forward to engaging fully to ensure the UK is the best place in the world to research, innovate and to grow business.”


Dr Ruth McKernan, Chief Executive of Innovate UK said:

“The Industry Challenge fund will put business-led innovation at the heart of the industrial strategy. It will help deliver business growth for companies across the nations and regions, supporting the industries of tomorrow, boosting productivity in our existing areas of strength and help us realise commercial benefit from our world class research base.

“As the business-facing part of UK Research and Innovation, we see this funding as a huge vote of confidence in the game changing opportunity for businesses right across the UK to foster a culture of innovation, so that no matter where you are, or your level of skills, you can be supported to get your innovative idea off the ground to grow and scale your business.”


Aisling Burnand, Chief Executive of AMRC, said:

“AMRC welcomes the prime minister’s ambition to make the UK the “global go-to place” for scientists and innovators, including the review of current R&D tax incentives and announcement of a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Investment in R&D is not only crucial for the UK economy, but for the NHS, patients and their families. By investing in research we are unlocking our understanding of health and furthering the discovering of new medical treatments and breakthroughs.

“Medical research charities play a significant role in UK R&D. We are calling on government to ensure that charities are included in initiatives to boost investment in R&D. Last year, medical research charities invested £1.4bn in medical research and funded the salaries of 15,000 researchers. Over the last 8 years, charities have invested nearly £10bn in research in the UK.

“We urge government to unleash the full potential of medical research charity investment as part of new Industrial Strategy. Ensuring that medical research charities, like businesses, are able to amplify their R&D spending.”


Dr Sarah Main, Director of Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), said:

“I’m impressed. The prime minister has shown real leadership in backing her ambition for science and innovation with both substantial investment and a plan to work hand in hand with industry. Around two thirds of R&D in the UK is done in industry. Many innovative companies around the world will have been watching to see if the UK would position itself as a leader or a follower post-Brexit. This is a clear signal that the UK will be a science and innovation leader.”

“So what can we expect for an extra £2bn a year? More good ideas being funded, better connections between research and industry, and the UK becoming a more vibrant hub to attract the best people and companies in the world. We must ensure that all of government works together on policies such as skills, migration and regulation to ensure this investment reaches its full potential.”


Prof. Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“I am delighted to see the government’s stated aims of building an effective industrial strategy for the UK realised in this morning’s announcement of increased investment in research and innovation, including a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to accelerate the growth of important engineering technologies, such as robotics and biotechnology. Together with the UK’s other national academies, we have been consistent in making the case for such investment in the future of our country and I’m pleased to see that the Prime Minister is signalling a similar ambition. Engineering is essential to delivering the economic and productivity gains associated with investment in research, creating wealth, improving lives and driving economic and social progress. Our Enterprise Hub, which supports the country’s most promising engineering entrepreneurs from start up to scale up, was established in 2013 in recognition of the crucial importance to our economy of fostering engineering innovation.

“The Academy has consistently championed the benefits of an industrial strategy for the UK, and a study that we led on behalf of the engineering profession, published in October, concluded that a renewed focus on industrial strategy is vital to enable us to continue to compete on the world stage after we leave the European Union. Engineering contributes at least 20% of the UK’s gross value added and accounts for half our exports, so the Prime Minister’s announcements today are a very positive step towards making Britain one of the best places in the world to research, innovate and build a business.”


Prof. Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said: 

“The University of Cambridge welcomes this investment, and the recognition of the importance of high-tech research to the UK economy.

“The joint oversight of this fund and of university core research funding by UKRI should enable a more collaborative approach to the translation of basic research to its application in industry.

“It is vital that the UK remains a world leader in science and innovation. This funding will enable us to build upon that strength so that the ideas and inventions developed in our universities will continue to create new business and growth across the UK.”


Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Science, said:

“With UK medical research at a crossroads, this is a moment for ambitious decisions which place our strengths in research at the heart of the nation’s future.

“The Prime Minister’s decision to seize this opportunity with £2bn of extra annualinvestment in research and development by 2020 is a bold and clear signal that Great Britain means great science.

“It’s not yet clear how this new resource will be allocated – we would like to see a balanced approach to supporting science from the discovery science done in our world-leading laboratories through to the translation of this into benefits for society.

“The new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will be a chance to spot, and support, emerging technologies from across medical research – delivering benefits to patients and the economy. This long-term investment will help us attract bright minds from across the UK and the world, building the UK’s reputation as a champion for discovery and innovation.

“We look forward to further details following the Autumn Statement, and the Academy stands ready to help inform the efficient and productive deployment of this new resource.”


Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said:

“I am strongly encouraged by the prime minister’s commitment. We know that the right support for the UK’s world-leading research and innovation, including fundamental science as well as its applications, will underpin economic growth and better health. As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, it will also be critical to remain attractive to the international talent that science and innovation require.”


Prof. Lord John Krebs, Principal of Jesus College, and Professor of Zoology, University of Oxford, said:

“This is excellent news for science and innovation, with substantial new money for UKRI.  As I understand it, UKRI will have considerable discretion over how the money will be spent, having regard for priority areas.”


Dr David Roblin, Director of Scientific Translation and Chief Operating Officer at the Francis Crick Institute, says:

“This looks like new money for research and development. There’s no doubt that the UK can do better in turning its scientific discoveries into new products and innovations that will help boost jobs and the economy, and this support is welcome. While today’s announcement is light in specifics at this stage, encouraging the funding of start-up companies in their early stages and maintaining funding to allow them to grow will be key. This needs money and the engagement of capital markets, which need to be encouraged to maintain investments patiently over the longer term in risky areas such as biotechnology.

“This would also be a good time to signal commitment to academic research as part of the government’s industrial strategy. It would be good to hear from the prime minister about support for fundamental research in the wake of Brexit. It is essential to build further the UK’s strength in academic research in order to enable a more successful industrial strategy – the two are interlinked.

“There are other obvious changes, such as reform of VAT rules, which would better facilitate the academic-industrial collaboration which often generates these new companies.”


Prof. Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said:

“Science and innovation are among the UK’s greatest strengths and are key to our future.  By placing them at the heart of our industrial strategy the prime minister is setting out a progressive vision for a country where the fruits of knowledge can spur economic growth and improve people’s lives. We look forward to seeing further details of the government’s plans.”


Declared interests

None declared

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