On Tuesday 26 June, the BSI team attended Parliamentary Links Day, an annual event organised and hosted by the Royal Society of Biology on behalf of the science and technology community. Links Day has been running for 10 years and has become the single biggest science policy event in the parliamentary calendar. The day brings together scientists, learned societies and Members of Parliament and facilitates discussions around a chosen theme, which this year was ‘Science and the Industrial Strategy’.
The day was opened by the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP followed by keynote addresses from a prestigious set of speakers, including Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, and Dr Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government. The audience was invited to participate in two Q&A-style panel sessions focused on ‘The Mission’ and ‘The Target’ of the Industrial Strategy. These were both chaired by BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh.
Industrial Strategy and funding
“Standing room only” was how Chi Onwurah opened her talk, referencing the packed room of people enthusiastic about policy changes for science. Starting with the concept that ‘science and politics are the twin engines of progress’, Onwurah discussed how the Industrial Strategy, published early last year, represented an opportunity to change the direction of research and innovation in the UK in order to increase investment and productivity. In relation to this, a key aim of the Industrial Strategy is to increase UK R&D spending to 2.4% GDP, bringing the UK’s spending in line with other OECD countries. Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, and Chi Onwurah both questioned whether this target was ambitious enough, with Lamb suggesting that further increases in funding from the private sector could promote more enterprise from core science. It was also stressed by Norman Lamb, as well as Rebecca Endean of the recently-founded UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Rt Hon Claire Perry MP, Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, that this funding should be equally distributed across the UK, with Lamb stating that, currently, 45% of R&D funding is channeled to the ‘golden triangle’ of Oxford, Cambridge and London.
UK research in a post-Brexit landscape
Another key aim of the Industrial Strategy is to ensure that the UK’s position as a global leader in science and innovation is maintained after Brexit. With the UK scheduled to leave the EU in less than a year, Chi Onwurah stressed that, with around a fifth of our R&D workforce currently made up of EU citizens, uncertainty surrounding immigration rights of workers could significantly damage UK research prospects. Norman Lamb underlined the importance of the UK’s continued participation in Horizon 2020’s successor, Horizon Europe (the EU’s main research funding programme). Currently, the UK funds approximately 11% of the total Horizon 2020 budget, yet UK-based institutions have been awarded around 16% of the total budget in R&D funding. As a current member of the EU, the UK also has a say in where the funding is directed. Following Brexit, although the UK may still be able to contribute to Horizon 2020’s successor, it may lose its privilege of advising which projects are funded.
‘The Mission’ and ‘The Target’
Following the keynotes, the audience was invited to participate in two Q&A-style panel sessions chaired by Pallab Ghosh. The first panel covered ‘The Mission’ of the Industrial Strategy. With input from an engaged audience, discussions centred around the need for an increase in accessibility of STEM subjects from school level upwards and the importance of facilitating a diverse workforce in the R&D sector. In the next panel session, covering ‘The Target’ of the Industrial Strategy, topics discussed were focused on how best to concentrate government funding as well as how to translate R&D into industrial advances. Adding to this in his keynote address, Patrick Vallance stressed that the Industrial Strategy must cater for the 165,000 people working within private sector R&D as well as those at publicly funded institutions in order to maximise industrial output from government funding.
A closing message from the PM
Closing the day, the former Science and Technology Committee Chair Stephen Metcalfe MP delivered a message from Prime Minister Theresa May, welcoming “so many distinguished scientists and engineers from such a wide range of the UK’s most prominent scientific societies” to the House. In her message, the Prime Minister highlighted the Government’s support for scientific research, exemplified by the Industrial Strategy’s current pledge to raise R&D spending to 2.4% GDP by 2027. She also emphasised the Government’s support for the UK’s continued involvement with EU-organised programmes for the success of science, stating that she had “made clear that it is in the mutual interest of the UK and the EU for the UK to have the option to fully associate ourselves with the excellence-based European science and innovation programmes”.
Policy & Public Engagement Officer, BSI
To read the BSI’s report on the Industrial Strategy, click here.
For a list of the BSI’s consultation responses to the Industrial Strategy and more, click here.