BIA calls for a strong industry voice in UKRI funding decisions

It’s a busy time in research and innovation policy. We are in the midst of an historic reorganisation of the funding infrastructure with the creation of UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) and a 20% increase in public investment. With critically-needed money now available, attention is turning to how it can be best spent. With this in mind, the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee is running an inquiry on the balance of research funding. 

The BIA has submitted views and in this blog we're summarising what we've said and called for. The full response is available here. Our submission has been led by our Senior Policy and Public Affairs Executive, Eric Johnsson, working with our Finance and Tax Advisory Committee (FTAC) and Science and Innovation Advisory Committee (SIAC). 

The role of UKRI in delivering government priorities
Through its Industrial Strategy – a wide-ranging, cross-Whitehall effort – the government has identified sectors that are of strategic importance to the UK economy. These sectors, of which life sciences is one, are to be championed and supported by Sector Deals. As an arm of government, UKRI has an important role to play in delivering these priorities and should set out how it will do this in its official strategy. In our submission, we also call on UKRI to continue to support key industries with sector-specific funding competitions, such as the Biomedical Catalyst (BMC). 

Ensuring UKRI decisions are informed by experts within sectors
The Life Sciences Industrial Strategy was written by Sir John Bell in collaboration with industry to provide a unified vision for the future of UK life sciences, which informed the Sector Deal. Industry and government are now working together on the implementation of the Sector Deal through the Life Sciences Council, a high-level steering group. The Strategy and the Council could deliver the high-level of engagement needed to ensure there is coordination between UKRI investments and the sector’s needs. We therefore recommend that the Life Sciences Council should have a formal role in the setting of UKRI funding priorities and strategy to ensure Industrial Strategy priorities are delivered.

Regional funding of R&D
A big topic in research and innovation policy is the geographical concentration of R&D investments. The Life Sciences Industrial Strategy sets out the vision – aligned with the BIA’s – for the UK to be a global life sciences hub and the UK is currently at the forefront of European bioscience. To maintain and enhance this position, the development of a UK cluster should be at the heart of bioscience funding policy. There are innovative bioscience companies supporting thousands of highly skilled jobs spread all around the country. However, realistically, the centre of gravity will be in the South East and will have a geographically-broad hinterland of support services. 

The UK cluster allows companies and researchers to operate in an environment where there are multiple opportunities for interaction and collaboration. This environment allows world-leading research to thrive, attracts top global talent and the foreign investment required to reach the government’s target of 2.4% of GDP invested in R&D. We argue in our submission that to maximise the value of public investments, R&D funding should continue to take advantage of and build on existing strengths. Ultimately, the best value for the taxpayer will be achieved by supporting the best science, wherever it is based.  

The effectiveness of public R&D funding and other government policies 
Finally in our submission, we set out to the Committee the many public funding streams and other R&D support, such as tax credits and the Patent Box, available to bioscience companies and we presented the strong evidence of their positive impact. 

For example, BIA analysis has shown that through the BMC, grants to businesses totalling £130 million leveraged over £100 million of additional private capital for the projects, and those companies went on to raise over £1 billon in further private finance. We were also able to show some great case studies from BIA members Puridify and KalVista on how they have benefitted from the BMC and attracted foreign investment to the UK. It is important that the government commits to the continuation of the BMC beyond 2020-21.

What next?
The Select Committee is currently analysing the written submissions it’s received and will shortly call on some organisations to give oral evidence. We expect a final report to be published in the New Year, if not before Christmas. 
UKRI and each of its funding Councils are developing their strategies and the government will be conducting a Spending Review in 2019. The Committee will be keen to influence these with the timing of its report. And the BIA will be doing its own work to do the same.    

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