By Emma Sykes, Science Policy Officer, Biochemical Society and the Royal Society of Biology
For our first Policy Lunchbox of the year we welcomed Naomi Weir, Deputy Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, CaSE, who led a highly animated discussion on the Government’s new Industrial Strategy and how we, the life science sector can make the most of it.
Titled ‘Making the most of the Industrial Strategy’ Naomi’s talk introduced us to the background, aims and objectives of the Government’s Industrial Strategy. Naomi spoke of the five foundations underpinning the strategy, the Grand Challenges it aims to tackle, and the four specific sector deals. In particular, Naomi placed much focus on Sir John Bell’s Life Sciences Sector Deal.
Announced on the 27th November 2017, Theresa May’s Industrial Strategy sets out to tackle productivity in the UK, drive innovation and create a strong economic infrastructure for Britain moving forward. Naomi explained how the Government built their strategy based on 5 set foundations:
- Ideas – to drive an increase in innovation in the UK.
- People – to improve the education and skillset of the British workforce.
- Infrastructure – to support investments in transports, housing and digital infrastructure.
- Business environment – to launch partnerships and sector deals between Government and Industry.
- Places – to improve and increase investment and support for local areas.
Following the strategy’s foundations, Naomi introduced us to the four grand challenges the Government has identified as areas to be addressed if the UK is to be a future economic leader: AI and the data-driven economy, Clean Growth, the Future of Mobility and our Ageing Society.
The announcement of the Industrial Strategy was closely followed by that of Sir John Bell’s Life Sciences Sector deal on the 6th December 2017. Naomi talked the group through the different aspects of the deal, including the Government’s commitment to raise investment in Research and Development to 2.4% and the expectation that Industry will match the investment of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
It is essential that wider policy areas affecting the Science and Technology Sector complement the Industrial Strategy for it to be a success. As Naomi explained, the strategy depends on the capacity and skills of the UK Scientific workforce, and she spoke at length of the work CaSE are undertaking to tackle issues such as Immigration, Investment, and Education and Skills.
Reactions from Industry, and other areas of the Life Science Sector to the Industrial Strategy were in general, quietly positive. Britain has long-awaited an Industrial Strategy, and for many, its publication was met with no small sigh of relief.
Despite this, a number of criticisms persist, and the session saw a lively discussion to close the event. Concerns were raised that the Strategy, while ambitious, contains no specific milestones or set targets, and accountability for the Strategy’s proposals are not well defined. Additionally, the Life Sciences sector deal has a strong focus on health and biomedical sciences and fails to include other aspects of life sciences such as plant science or biotechnology. It is hoped the current sector deal will be followed by a second deal, one which will set out opportunities and objectives for a broader area of the Life Sciences.
There seems to be some apprehension that without definitive and measurable objectives the Strategy may fall by the wayside and perhaps will not be able to deliver all it has promised. Regardless, the fact we have an Industrial Strategy is viewed, in general, as positive step, and there is much the sector can do to influence its success.
If you missed this month’s Policy Lunchbox, you can watch it on the Biochemical Society’s Facebook page.
Policy Lunchbox is a joint initiative between the Biochemical Society, the British Ecological Society, the Royal Society of Biology, Society for Applied Microbiology, Society of Experimental Biology and the Microbiology Society. You can sign up to the mailing list and receive invitations to events straight to your inbox.