Innovation investment, incentives and reviews announced by Theresa May

Theresa May has announced measures around innovation spending and tax incentives in her speech to the CBI’s annual conference. The detail behind the headlines will be revealed later this week but on the face of it the Prime Minister is addressing many of the issues that PraxisUnico and sector stakeholders have highlighted for some time notably: the need to increase government investment in R&D, address tax and VAT issues for innovation and the long-term sustainability of start-ups.

The need to increase R&D investment has been at the top of the list for universities, learned societies and business groups (notably the CBI) for several years. Making reference to the UK’s ‘gold-standard universities’ and the world-class quality of its research base, the Prime Minister announced investment and incentives will be introduced to improve research commercialisation and increase business-research collaboration. An Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will direct part of the £2 billion investment to scientific research and ‘priority technologies, “helping to address Britain’s historic weakness on commercialisation and turning our world-leading research in to long-term success”. Some commentators have questioned whether this will be new money, old budgets, or tax breaks – will this recognition of need bear fruit?  

The context for research commercialisation from UK universities is the subject of a current Select Committee inquiry. In written and oral evidence PraxisUnico has emphasised the UK’s success at commercialisation – including the number of spin-outs – but also the constraints of both supply and demand. We have also emphasised the value of non-transactional knowledge exchange in creating economic and social benefit, and the inclusion of the arts, humanities and social sciences in this element of the university mission.

Two reviews have been announced. One, on Patient Capital will “examine how [the government] can break down the obstacles to getting long-term investment into innovative firms”. This significant innovation by university tech transfer offices was the topic of a ‘good practice’ paper by PrU Board member Tony Hickson for HEFCE’s KE performance framework. The second addresses small businesses – the subject of much discussion in the first Select Committee hearing. It will be reviewing the Small Businesses Research Initiative; a programme which has been the subject of government announcements and academic review in the recent past.

The Autumn Statement is on Wednesday, 23rd November.