AIRTO commends government’s new Innovation Strategy

AIRTO – the Association of Innovation, Research & Technology Organisations – on behalf of its members, welcomes the launch of the new Innovation Strategy by the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng at South Yorkshire’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), to celebrate its twentieth anniversary and the region’s contribution to innovation in an event 22 July, at which AIRTO was represented.

AIRTO sees the new strategy as a progressive move by government, to deliver on its stated goal for the UK to become a ‘global hub for innovation by 2035’.

AIRTO – the representative body for the UK’s Innovation, Research & Technology (IRT) sector which turns over ~£7bn per annum and employs 57,000 people – is delighted to see the UK government implementing lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic to recognise the power that science and technology can play in tackling societal challenges and transforming lives, helping realise the ambition to ‘Build Back Better’.

In a joint statement, AIRTO’s Chair, Dr Paul Howarth FREng, and AIRTO’s President, Steve Yianni FREng said:

“The IRT sector plays a vital and unique role in delivering the infrastructure and expertise that will underpin the government’s Science Superpower ambitions to 2035 and beyond. The level of innovation required to tackle big missions (such ‘Net Zero’) is colossal and needs nurturing if it is going to be successful. We very much welcome this fresh commitment from government to advance innovation.”

In setting out this strategy, the government is signalling its intention to place science and technology at the heart of the UK’s recovery from the pandemic by supporting the UK’s innovation capabilities. AIRTO is especially pleased to see the focus on:

Nurturing Talent: the new Innovation Strategy is recognising it needs to put people at the heart of its plans by investing in skills and improving opportunities for the brightest and best to come to work in the UK.

Nurturing the role of the innovation ecosystem: the new Innovation Strategy will continue to capitalise on the extensive network of innovation assets which lies in the UK’s Public Sector Research Establishments (PSREs), Research & Technology Organisations (RTOs) and Catapult Centres, to harness their capabilities, expertise and infrastructure to invigorate future economic growth across all parts of the UK.

Nurturing the role of business: the new Innovation Strategy sets out plans to form a Business Innovation Forum to ensure business is fully engaged in its implementation.

AIRTO is also especially pleased to see that, in rising to the challenge of advancing innovation, the new Strategy signals an appetite for the inherent risk which comes with developing technologies, along with an associated plan for managing it. Significantly, the new Strategy recognises that innovation is not a linear process that always commences in the laboratory, and that the market has a significant role to play in creating demand. It is also very welcome that the government has recognised the need to adopt a whole systems approach by coordinating policy on regulation and procurement – powerful tools for driving innovation, when applied appropriately. AIRTO has called repeatedly for these factors to be considered by government in its position statements on ‘Gearing up to 2.4%’ and ‘More D!’, and is now delighted to see their inclusion in the strategy.

Overall, AIRTO specifically welcomes the following actions set out in the Strategy across the four pillars:

Pillar 1. Unleashing Business

– Consulting on how regulation can ensure that the UK is well-placed to extract the best value from innovation.

– Forming a new Business Innovation Forum

Pillar 2. People

– Introduction of new High Potential Individual and Scale-up visa routes, and revitalisation of the Innovator route

Pillar 3. Institutions & Places

– An independent review to be led by Professor Sir Paul Nurse

– Allocation of £127 million through the Strength in Places Fund – with two of the five announced bids being led by AIRTO members (see Midlands Advanced Ceramics for Industry 4.0 and Advanced Machinery and Productivity Initiative)

Pillar 4. Missions & Technologies 

– Establishment of a new Innovation Missions programme

– Identification of key technology families

– Launch of new Prosperity Partnerships

Over the coming months, AIRTO looks forward to working with government to identify how best it can support the implementation of the new Innovation Strategy. In doing so, we shall be calling on the government to go further in strengthening two areas of the Strategy:

  • Creating more support mechanisms for boosting international collaborations – and in particular, taking steps to ensure that UK entities play their part in programmes like Horizon Europe. AIRTO contends that the UK’s international standing as a ‘Science and Technology Superpower’ will be hampered if we lose ground in our relationships with key collaborators in EU member states.
  • Providing more detail on how government plans to invest in the innovation ecosystem during the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review cycle. Some of the UK’s non-profit distributing RTOs that lie at the ecosystem’s foundations, offering living labs, test-beds and demonstrators, remain undercapitalised. For the UK’s innovation ecosystem to be truly world-leading by 2035, this under investment must be addressed.