AIRTO welcomes the recommendations of the Government Science Capability Review

AIRTO (the Association for Innovation, Research and Technology Organisations) welcomes the Government Science Capability Review and the actions it recommends to further embed government science activities into policymaking.

The organisations in the UK’s Innovation, Research and Technology (IRT) sector (which we represent) include not-for-profit and private sector Research and Technology Organisations (including Catapult Centres), government owned Public Sector Research Establishments (PSREs). Complementing our world-class universities, these organisations are an essential part of the UK’s infrastructure for science and innovation, accelerating the translation of research outcomes for exploitation through development of new products and services, and upskilling significant numbers of scientists and professionals working in research, innovation and engineering. Therefore, we welcome this report’s recognition that ‘Science is a cornerstone of our future economy’ and the impact it is increasingly having in government and society. The review  carried out by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance FRS FMedSci FRCP makes a number of key recommendations relating to the UK’s science and engineering infrastructure which are welcomed by AIRTO, including calls for:

  • new models of working with private sector innovative companies to meet the science needs of government;
  • Involvement of government science and engineering profession, analysts and policy professionals in defining mission-led programmes;
  • Closer working across government and the wider scientific community in academia and industry (including internationally) to improve the impact of our science. (This recommendation chimes with another recent government report entitled ‘Changes and choices’ which was led by Professor Sir Adrian Smith and Professor Graeme Reid).

AIRTO is particularly pleased to see that the review recognised that our public laboratories represent an ‘extraordinarily valuable asset’, and that more needs to be done to support this world-leading national resource. The report describes ‘Public Laboratories’ primarily as government-owned PSREs, but also recognises that there are other organisations sitting outside of government ownership, which fulfill a national mandate to deliver scientific capabilities and often have unique capability. This ability of the UK government to draw on the vast industrial expertise of Innovation & Research Organisations beyond its ownership is a feature of our national ecosystem which AIRTO has long professed to be a national asset. For example, some privately owned laboratories deliver important services for government – such as LGC which delivers part of the National Measurement System. In addition, some independent not-for-profit Research & Technology Organisations, RTOs, also deliver vital  services for government departments such as NIAB which provides Defra with technical services to implement the seed certification scheme as well as National Listing and UK Plant Breeder’s Rights. In many cases these organisations provide unique advice and responsive services in times of crisis, for example following the Grenfell and Salisbury events.

Furthermore, in recognising that this national asset needs to be nurtured, AIRTO has consistently championed the UK’s government’s commitment to the UK’ science and technology infrastructure as a means to continue stimulating our economy. Earlier this year AIRTO issued a Position Statement on ‘Gearing up to 2.4%’, pinpointing six critical levers for government to deploy to raise levels of both public and private investment in R&D in the UK. As part of this initiative, we called for investment in R&D and innovation to be executed in a much smarter way, to keep pace with competitor nations by implementing three inter-related recommendations of immediate importance, which aim to:

i). Rebalance the research and applied development mix being undertaken to include more development activity at higher Technology Readiness Levels, (TRLs);

ii). Improve access to private finance for industry to undertake R&D, particularly in the most challenging fields;

iii). Exploit the export of UK R&D services and knowledge assets by the Innovation, Research and Technology (IRT) sector to international markets (facilitated by a strong and diverse STEM workforce).

AIRTO’s recent consultations with its members have revealed some of the challenges faced by Public Laboratories, including inconsistencies in approaches to capitalisation and depreciation between laboratories, and for those independent organisations which are delivering scientific services to government, under capitalisation of infrastructure is a significant concern. We recognise how it can be very difficult for government to take a long-term, joined-up view in planning for strategic investment in our national capabilities, and so we welcome this review as a step forward in overcoming this challenge.

Commenting on the Science Capability Review, AIRTO’s President, Professor Richard Brook OBE FREng called on the government to go a step further:

“We should like to see the government leverage the entire Innovation, Research and Technology sector to boost our capacity to deliver science and innovation capabilities to meet global challenges (such a tackling the world’s climate emergency), thereby facilitating closer working with international partners in academia and industry, and creating jobs and economic benefit for UKplc.”

 About AIRTO

AIRTO is the representative body for the innovation sector in the UK. Its membership comprises sixty of the principle organisations operating in the UK’s Innovation, Research and Technology (IRT) Sector. The IRT sector has a combined turnover of £6.9 billion per annum, employing over 57,000 scientific and technical staff. The sector contributes £34 billion to UK GDP per annum. AIRTO’s Members interface with industry and academia, working for both private and public sector clients. Members include not-for-profit and private sector Research and Technology Organisations (including Catapult Centres), government laboratories and some university enterprise offices. Members are an essential part of the UK’s infrastructure for innovation, accelerating research outcomes and the exploitation of new products and services, and training significant numbers of staff at a wide range of educational levels.

For further information, please contact:
Dr Jane Gate, Executive Director: