Life sciences in the public eye: what can we learn from the manifestoes?  

The snap election has sent political parties’ machinery into overdrive to distil their policy development down into concrete manifestoes that pitch their offer to the electorate.

With fewer than twenty days to go and the manifestoes of the main parties now published, the BIA policy team pick apart what each party is pledging for the life science sector.  

After months of fervent speculation, Rishi Sunak caught opposition parties off guard by firing the starting gun on a rare summer general election campaign.

As the BIA has set out in our blog series, writing a manifesto is a drawn-out process. Now, parties’ policy development has all come down to this. Every industry engagement, every focus group, and no-doubt many internal squabbles summarised in one 100-page document. However, Labour also published their life science strategy back in February, which provides additional colour to their plan for government.  

The published manifestoes give us an insight into how each party will support the positioning of the UK as a global leader in life sciences. Read on for a thematic run-through of what our sector might look like under whoever forms the next government.  

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ahead of Sky's 'Battle for No 10' interviews in Grimsby on 12 June (Stefan Rosseau).PNG
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ahead of Sky's 'Battle for No 10' interviews in Grimsby on 12 June (Stefan Rosseau)

 Growth, investment and industrial strategy 

It is clear to all political parties that economic growth is a prerequisite if the UK economy is to recover and for the country to be able to invest in public services. Speeches from key figures of all the major parties have noted the UK’s buoyant life science sector has an important role to play in this. 

Delivering economic stability is top of Labour’s six “first steps for change”. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves has coined the term “securonomics” to emphasise this and Keir Starmer says he wants to lead a mission-driven government focusing on “ambitious, measurable, long-term objectives that provide a driving sense of purpose for the country”. The Conservatives say their plan since Rishi Sunak took over is working and the economy is turning a corner, so the country should stick with it.  

Labour’s manifesto commits them to continue the current government’s efforts to unlock pension funds, as championed by the BIA’s work to galvanise the Mansion House agenda and additionally promises a National Wealth Fund backed by £7.3 billion to invest in the industries of the future.  

In a move to further support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Labour also plan to reform the British Business Bank to improve access to capital, a policy echoed by the Liberal Democrats in their pledge to crowd in investment into scale-ups. The Conservatives, meanwhile, say they will use Open Finance and Regional Mutual Banks to support companies’ growth. 

As trailed over the past year, industrial strategy is a watchword of Labour’s manifesto, implemented by a re-established Industrial Strategy Council to oversee it. The Lib Dems have also committed to this. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Shadow Health Secretary Wes Steeting on a visit to Bassetlaw Hospital in Nottinghamshire on 13 June.PNG
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Shadow Health Secretary Wes Steeting on a visit to Bassetlaw Hospital in Nottinghamshire on 13 June


Personal and business tax plans have become battlelines in this election. Labour have said they will not increase National Insurance, the basic, higher, or additional rates of Income Tax, or VAT, and the Conservatives have made tax cuts a defining feature of their manifesto.  

Thanks to the work of the BIA, and the crucial campaign driven by our members in 2022-3, R&D tax credits have been recognised across the political spectrum as an essential mechanism for supporting innovative life science companies.  

The Conservatives have pledged to maintain the current tax relief regime in their manifesto. Labour do not mention R&D tax relief in theirs, but have said they will publish a roadmap for business taxation for the next parliament to “allow businesses to plan investments with confidence”. They went further in their life science strategy by promising to maintain R&D tax relief and conduct a sector-specific review of the scheme.  

Both the Conservatives and Labour promise to retain full expensing for capital investment and the annual investment allowance for small business introduced by the Conservatives in recent years.   

Labour also say they will change how private equity investors’ returns are taxed, addressing the “loophole” that means it is treated as capital gains and not the higher income tax. Details on how this will be done are not confirmed, but the policy could be applied to venture capital returns too, which could impact investors in the life sciences.  

R&D and manufacturing investment  

Public funding for R&D is crucial to feed the innovation pipeline and enable companies to start-up and scale-up, helping to leverage private investment into the life sciences and beyond across innovative sectors. The UK currently spends around 2.9% of GDP on R&D.  

The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto sets a clear target for R&D spending - 3% of GDP by 2030 and 3.5% by 2034. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have restated their current government commitment to increase R&D spend to £22 billion per annum, compared to £20 billion spent in 2024. The Green Party say they would boost R&D funding by £30 billion over the next five years. 

The Labour Party has not set a defined target for R&D spend, instead promising to implement 10-year funding cycles for R&D-funding institutions to increase certainty.  

The Lib Dems also emphasise the importance of collaboration with Europe on R&D, making clear their commitment to Horizon Europe membership and additionally pledging to join the European Innovation Council.  

All three major political parties have also said they will deliver the Advanced Manufacturing Plan, a Conservative policy announced in the 2023 Autumn Statement that included £520 million attached to support life sciences manufacturing between 2025 and 2030. The Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership, of which BIA is a founding member, did the work to secure this.   

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey launching his party's general election campaign in Cheltenham on 23 May (PA).jpg
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey launching his party's general election campaign in Cheltenham on 23 May (PA)

The future of the NHS 

‘Building an NHS fit for the future’ is one of Keir Starmer’s five ‘missions’, a key strand of which will be an innovation and adoption strategy for the NHS. The Conservatives’ manifesto commits them to increasing NHS spending above inflation every year, some of which would go towards more Community Diagnostic Centres. Mental health and cancer feature heavily in the Lib Dems’ plans. 

Regulation, clinical trials and access to medicines 

The fact that medicines regulation and access appear at all in party manifestoes is testament to the work of the BIA and others in highlighting the importance of these issues in ensuring that patients can benefit from innovative treatments and technologies.   

For instance, the Lib Dems call for mutual recognition between the MHRA and EMA to streamline access to innovative medicines for UK patients. Similarly, the Conservatives say they will remove red tape preventing access to innovative medicines, adjusting the NHS Budget Impact Test and aligning NHS England’s cost-effectiveness thresholds with those of NICE. 

Labour’s offer on regulation revolves around the establishment of a Regulatory Innovation Office to join up pro-innovation approaches to regulation across government. They will also look to make it easier for patients to participate in clinical trials via the NHS app. Conversely, the Greens have said they will strengthen the Food Standards Authority, with implications for BIA members in the Deep Biotech space.  

The potential of AI-enabled healthcare also looms large in manifestoes. The Conservatives call for a new pathway for the NHS to adopt AI-enabled medical technology, whilst the Lib Dems say they will develop a pro-innovation, cross-sectoral regulatory framework for AI. Labour’s offer includes a new National Data Library to bring together AI research projects.  

Skills and employment  

If the UK’s life science sector is to continue to grow, a robust and diverse talent pipeline is imperative.  

Apprenticeships offer an important pathway into our sector. To this end, the Conservatives say they will make 100,000 further apprenticeships available, while the Lib Dems would focus on reforming the apprenticeship levy, guaranteeing the National Minimum Wage for apprentices, and expanding vocational training. Labour also say they would offer a more flexible Growth and Skills Levy, as well as reforming planning rules to aid laboratory construction and offer future jobs across the UK.  

Animal research and global health 

An important issue at previous elections, and possibly in the next parliament, animal research appears in the Green and Labour parties’ manifestoes. The former say they will seek to ban all animal testing, whereas Labour say they will work with ‘scientists, industry, and civil society as we work towards the phasing out of animal testing’. 

Animal testing is not mentioned by the Conservative or Lib Dems. The Conservatives do, however, emphasise the role they would play on the global stage, mentioning their commitment to tackling the threat of AMR and their efforts to adopt a consistent approach to biosecurity through border inspections across Great Britain. 

Looking ahead to the next Parliament 

It is encouraging to see science policy feature so heavily in all of the party manifestoes, with its role as a key driver of economic growth seemingly understood by all parties. The BIA has long highlighted the role of the UK life sciences sector in attracting investment and creating highly-skilled jobs, and it is positive to see this bond between health and wealth recognised across the political spectrum. Moreover, with the NHS at the forefront of the electorate’s mind in this election, it appears all parties understand the importance of innovation in addressing the challenges facing the healthcare system. 

With promises on R&D budgets and tax relief, clinical trials, and AI-enabled healthcare all now arguably part of the political mainstream, whichever party wins the election, MPs making up the next parliament will have been elected on a mandate to support R&D. Not only is this welcomed by the life sciences sector, but it is also backed by the public, with a survey from this year showing that about two-thirds would vote for someone who supports R&D in Parliament. The BIA looks forward to engaging closely with the next government and parliament to ensure that the UK’s life sciences sector continues to thrive.  

At this crucial moment for the sector, sign up to our webinar on 25 June for further insights from the BIA’s Steve Bates and Martin Turner. 

The full manifestos can be found via the links below. Other parties are yet to publish theirs.  

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