AIRTO welcomes government’s Roadmap to fire up R&D

AIRTO (the Association for Innovation, Research and Technology Organisations) welcomes the announcement of the government’s Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap setting out the UK’s vision and ambition for science, research and innovation. In particular, we are pleased to see the renewed commitment to the public investment in science and innovation previously announced in the 2020 Budget announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, aimed at boosting and levelling-up economic growth.

AIRTO Chair, Dr Paul Howarth FREng, commented,

The government faces an unprecedented challenge to protect the UK population from the impact of the Covid 19 and to jumpstart our economy; we welcome the focus on to the benefits of investing in R&D – this is critical to successfully delivering the UK’s Industrial Strategy for our national health, greener prosperity and competitiveness. AIRTO is delighted that the government is listening to businesses through the new conversation initiated by the Business Secretary’s economic recovery roundtables to identify the strengths, challenges and issues to be tackled, characterised by honesty about where the UK needs to improve.”

The Roadmap highlights a number of areas where we welcome attention being focused, including:

  • Raising our research ambitions: Formation of the new ARPA, which will be a key vehicle for success.
  • Inspiring and enabling talented people and teams & Levelling up R&D across the UK: AIRTO asserts that investing in the necessary skills development for a world-leading ‘Science and Innovation Superpower’ offers the prospect of levelling up access to opportunities for careers in research and innovation for young people from BAME communities and disadvantaged backgrounds. To achieve this, the government should join forces with industry, universities and the Innovation, Research & Technology (IRT) sector to establish a package of measures for building an innovation-ready workforce for the future.
  • Driving up innovation and productivity: Research & Technology Organisations, RTO’s, including the Catapult Centres, and PSREs are key to providing businesses with the technical know-how to help enhance their process innovation and productivity, and AIRTO urges the government to expand tried and tested schemes such as ‘Analysis for Innovators’ through which the IRT sector can provide direct innovation support to industry. In addition, in the spirit of ‘building back better’ AIRTO urges the government to take the opportunity to pilot some new schemes and models of collaboration for enhancing process innovation and productivity.
  • Being at the forefront of global collaboration: International partnerships and business are critical for the UK’s IRT sector. A powerful tool for underpinning global collaborations is relationship building, so we are urging the government to re-double efforts to make the UK an attractive place for the world’s ‘brightest and best’ scientists and engineers, especially early-career researchers to come and work, providing a simple visa system to encourage this.
  • Developing world-leading infrastructure and institutes: AIRTO applauds the commitment in the Roadmap to focus more attention on ‘public sector research establishments and other publicly funded laboratories. The IRT sector, which includes these organisations has long been an under-utilised asset, and the UK stands to benefit from harnessing the capabilities of these organisations to boost innovation across a wide range of important industrial sectors including aerospace, Agri-food, automotive, telecommunications, renewable energy and pharmaceuticals, but these organisations must be properly resourced.
  • Ensuring a healthy R&D system: AIRTO welcomes the recognition that public sector research establishments and other publicly funded laboratories need to be properly funded to enable their full participation in government programmes – this recognition must be followed through with tangible interventions by key government agencies, including UKRI.

The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of our national research and innovation capabilities, including those organisations that have come together to develop clinical diagnostic services, and those that are working against the clock as part of the VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium, under the leadership of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. Recognising that research and innovation of this sort is critical for our national and global survival and competitiveness, we have recently been calling on the government to make it the central pillar of our Industrial Strategy. Time is running out to reach 2.4% GDP for R&D by 2027! AIRTO contends that efforts have been skewed too heavily towards RESEARCH and balancing is required to focus more on the ‘DEVELOPMENT’ aspects of R&D in our national strategic planning to complement our world-class research base. If harnessed and resourced properly, the thriving Innovation, Research and Technology (IRT) sector (including Public Laboratories, Catapults and private sector Industrial Research Organisations) can help underpin the UK’s status as a world-class Science and Innovation Superpower, as described in our recent position statement ‘More D!: A more DEVELOPMENT-focused strategy for paving the way to IMPACT: Innovation that is Market Pulled, Applied, Commercially Translated!’

AIRTO is, therefore, especially pleased to see that the R&D Roadmap recognises the need to provide long-term flexible investment into infrastructure and institutions to ensure that they are able to play their fullest role. The commitment in the Roadmap to develop the UK’s large-scale infrastructure, facilities, resources and services to make them world-leading, explicitly includes ‘public sector research establishments and other publicly funded laboratories’, a move which AIRTO applauds. Many laboratories sit outside of government ownership, but are a key part of the UK’s R&D ecosystem, receiving public funds for undertaking vital work.

As the government develops further detailed plans for the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, AIRTO continues to urge smart, evidence-based decision making for deployment of resources for R&D to maximise impact. By continuing to listen to and join forces with academia, the IRT sector and business, the government stands to accelerate economic recovery, close the productivity gap,  and in the process better position the UK as a resilient world-leading Science and Innovation Superpower, ready to tackle the global challenges such as climate change, health and food security to improve quality of life.