To help not hinder

SimonHaskel.jpgSimon Haskel on supporting UK business in its drive to develop new products and services

At the recent Lord Mayor’s banquet, the Prime Minister said that we were in a global race. Hopefully it’s not a race to the bottom, as most of us agree that we can’t just leave our success (or failure) to chance or simple market forces. We need a strategy – and one that gets us to the top.  A central part of this should be is research and innovation, both at home and in Europe.  

The EU supports this work through the framework programme – currently in its seventh phase which finishes at the end of this year. But from January 2014 there’s a new programme ‘Horizon 2020’ which will support research and innovation.

The existing programme has been especially important for the UK. Our higher education institutions are among the top participating nation states and this has provided an additional 15% on top of the government’s own budget. It is growing and compensates in cash terms for the freeze in our domestic science budget.

The successful participation of our HE institutions is not similarly reflected by private commercial businesses in the framework. They are only a quarter of the total number of UK participants, and so we need this to improve; in part by identifying less complex structures to make it happen.  We need shorter and simpler intermediation, more focus on monitoring outcomes and less on auditing expenditure, and more consultation.

This is especially important because business looks to EU money to help compensate for the failures of bank lending – something that is shrinking in real terms, despite promises by both the banks and the Coalition government.

Perhaps one other reason why industry participates far less than HE institutions in the framework is that, to them, research and innovation goes wider than science and technology. Innovation should be regarded in the broadest possible terms. Investment therefore, needs also to focus on new software, the modernising and speeding up of the supply chain, design and branding, and developing new business processes and new ways of serving customers.

Where ever innovation and research is discussed, intellectual property rights are always a concern. The problem that SMEs in particular have is that protecting their rights hinders outcomes and outputs. In a perfect world, these companies would protect their intellectual property before it is made public. That is why a more cautious approach to open access is required – something the government rejects. I hope Ministers understand that in doing so they are slowing down the rate at which innovative products and services are introduced.

Lord Simon Haskel is a backbench Labour Peer and a member of the Lords Committee on Infrastructure and Employment

Published 21st November 2013

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