Dispatches from the party conferences – Liberal Democrats

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As the political parties prepare for a general election next year and finalise their manifestos, BIA is attending their conferences to engage with current MPs, parliamentary candidates, and other policy makers to raise awareness and understanding of our sector and what it needs from the next government.

In this first instalment of dispatches by the BIA team attending the conferences, Dr. Martin Turner, BIA's Head of Policy and Public Affairs, reports on what he’s heard from the Liberal Democrats.

Sunny Bournemouth hosted a buoyant conference for the Liberal Democrats, confident about their prospects at the next general election following their recent by-election successes.

Health was the central policy theme touched on by almost all speeches, with Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper MP saying the Liberal Democrats are the party of “health creation” in her keynote

Wealth creation wasn’t far behind in the priority messages. Sarah Olney MP, the Lib Dems’ Business and Treasury spokesperson argued the UK needs a plan to drive investment and called for R&D tax relief to be restored following the recent cuts, echoing BIA’s flagship campaign.

Daisy Cooper MP, Deputy Leader and Health and Social Care Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats.jpg
Daisy Cooper MP, Deputy Leader and Health and Social Care Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats

I was pleased to have a meeting with the prospective parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire, Pippa Heylings, to explain the importance of those reliefs for life science SMEs. We also discussed the need for the next government to maintain pressure on the pensions industry to invest in innovative UK companies, an issue that resonated with Pippa, who has already worked to encourage pension funds to invest in green industries.

Councillor Pippa Heylings, Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire.jpg
Councillor Pippa Heylings, Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire

Access to skills was a concern shared by all sectors represented at the business day event, at which Sarah Olney MP told us that she wanted to reform the Apprenticeship Levy to make it work better for SMEs. I also attended the Royal Society’s event focused on the increasing costs of the Global Talent Visa, which is making the UK by far the most expensive country in the world to bring in skilled researchers and innovators, putting a break on our science superpower ambitions. This view resonated with many of the Lib Dem members of the House of Lords I spoke to during the conference.

BIA member Moderna hosted the life sciences roundtable during the business day event, where we discussed with Daisy Cooper the importance of MHRA having the capacity and capability to regulate innovative medicines coming down the pipeline and ensure the UK is an attractive destination for clinical trials. Daisy was also keen to understand the dynamics of the NHS medicines budget (Voluntary Pricing and Access Scheme - VPAS) negotiations and took onboard the need to support innovation across the life sciences ecosystem.

Closing the conference, party leader Sir Ed Davey MP also made health the key theme of his speech, announcing a five-year plan to improve NHS cancer outcomes. More details on this might come in the manifesto, and it will be interesting to see if industry-led medical innovation is seen as part of the solution. A pro-business message was clear throughout the conference but the link between better healthcare and a thriving life sciences industry wasn’t clearly drawn. Although everyone I spoke to enthusiastically agreed about the value of the life sciences, I feel we have a little more to do to ensure it is explicitly acknowledged as a key sector of the future alongside green energy, AI and robotics, which all got highlighted during set piece speeches I saw.    

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