George Freeman, the Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation, outlined the Government’s ‘global science strategy’ in a speech to the Onward think tank. In a familiar refrain, Mr Freeman detailed what it means to be a ‘science superpower’ but also spoke about how this is complemented by the UK being an ‘innovation nation’.
Mr Freeman once again spoke frankly about the UK’s position on a Horizon Europe alternative should the country remained blocked from associating with the EU programme.
This ‘plan B’ would make use of the whole £15 billion that had been set aside for Horizon Europe across seven years – ensuring that researchers will not lose out financially. The UK will also seek to establish initiatives to secure scientific talent from across the globe and pledged that bilateral and multilateral collaborations would be initiated.
He emphasised that the Government are still pushing for association to Horizon Europe and stated that even if they remained blocked the EU would quickly want the UK back if we made significant headway on establishing global partnerships.
Mr Freeman noted that UK public spending on R&D would rise dramatically over the next three years, increasing by 30% over the period. This would mean Government expenditure on R&D would reach £20 billion by 2024. He also revealed that previous ONS estimations on R&D expenditure vastly underestimated contributions compared to GDP, perhaps by just over 1%.
Mr Freeman spoke enthusiastically about utilising public spending on R&D to ‘unlock major industrial and private sector funding’. To achieve this and ensure it is easier for both domestic and international investors to invest in the UK, a special unit in BEIS would be established. This unit would work exclusively on cultivating ‘innovation clusters’ with Mr Freeman also looking to work across departments to develop ‘a much clearer road map to invest in UK research and development’.
He specifically referenced 30 innovation clusters which have been identified outside of the Golden Triangle. This would ensure that investment is directed across the country, not just benefitting areas which are already flourishing.
Touching on Brexit, and the benefits thereof, Mr Freeman stated that our new freedoms could allow the UK to be a ‘regulatory test bed’ for new and emerging sectors by improving regulation and procurement legislation.