Is the UK falling behind in innovation? Industry leaders discuss solutions in Westminster

16 April 2024 | Muriel Cozier | Photo: Roger Brown

From startups to global giants, industry stakeholders gathered to discuss the UK's science and tech future.

The UK landscape for innovation, investment and growth was the focus of discussion at a meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee All-Party Parliamentary Group in Westminster on Monday 15 April. Held in partnership with the SCI, attendees heard perspectives from a startup, through to global science businesses operating in the UK.

Opening the discussion, SCI CEO Sharon Todd set out the reality of the UK’s position in relation to its global competitors. ‘The UK’s long term GDP growth has fallen behind that of our competitors. There is an increasing need for a comprehensive, bold and ambitious plan to support UK growth,’ she said.

Highlighting SCI’s Manifesto, she shared four steps that SCI believes would transform the UK’s science business landscape: putting innovation at the heart of government, attracting large scale investment, increasing the pace of scale-up for startup companies, and the introduction of an innovation visa to bring skilled industrial scientists and engineers from overseas.

Sharing experience as a scale-up, Natasha Boulding, CEO of Low Carbon Materials, made note of the difficulties faced trying to recruit talent. ‘A scale-up company cannot compete with an established large corporation when it comes to recruitment. Maybe there are ways that the mature companies could cooperate with scaleups in sharing expertise and staffing helping us get to the next stage,’ she said.

Boulding also commented on the fragmented and complex system of grant applications that the UK has in place. ‘We need to make public money more accessible. The grant application process is lengthy and very few scale-ups can invest funds to have an individual dedicated to the process.’

SCI's Manifesto for An Industrial Science and Innovation Strategy
Download SCI's Manifesto for an Industrial Science & Innovation Strategy here.

Focusing on the long and complex process of the transition to net zero, Liz Rowsell, chief technology officer at Johnson Matthey stressed that a stable policy environment is essential.

‘The UK is well placed to build a hydrogen economy for the energy transition and the decarbonisation of chemicals and fuels. But we need long-term policy to enable this,’ Rowsell said. As a company with a strong focus on R&D, as well as supporting technology development through partnerships, Rowsell noted the importance of consistent policy supporting this investment as well as incentives to encourage scaling and manufacturing growth.

Of course attracting investment from large global players is important for the growth of any economy, and BASF – which has had a presence in the UK market since 1880 and currently operates six sites in the UK – has huge experience in this area. ‘Clear consistent priorities and policy makes it easier to make an investment case to a board,’ said Daphne Vlastari, BASF head of communications and government relations for UK and Ireland.

While welcoming many of the recent developments announced by the UK government around manufacturing, Vlastari called for bold moves by the UK’s leaders. ‘We need to match the industrial challenge that we face with the R&D priorities that are aligned with regulation and policy.’ Vlastari said.

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