British Government Unveils £150 Million Technology Strategy - News Item

A detailed action plan to increase innovation and help British businesses succeed in an increasingly competitive global market is today published by Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

Competing in the Global Economy: The Innovation Challenge follows a wide- ranging review of innovation policy, led by Science Minister Lord Sainsbury. The report identifies the UK's excellent science base and track record in invention, but warns more needs to be done to exploit this for commercial benefit.

The UK will find it increasingly hard to compete in the global market against countries with low labour costs. Future success will be won through the exploitation of new ideas, particularly in areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and information and communication technology.

Action must take place across government to boost innovation and the Prime Minister has asked the Trade and Industry Secretary to lead a new Ministerial team that will deliver on innovation across Whitehall.

The Innovation Report aims for the UK to be the leading major country in Europe in terms of business Research & Development and patenting within a decade. Proposals in the report made after wide consultation with businesses, academics, innovators and trade unions include:

  • A National Technology Strategy to provide a framework for policy priorities and focus support on innovation. The strategy will be underpinned by £150 million - including £90 million allocated for nanotechnology and funding released by the review of DTI business schemes.
  • New government procurement guidelines to make government a more 'intelligent customer' by encouraging innovation through the £109 billion it spends each year on products and services.
  • An increased role for the Small Business Service to promote innovation and knowledge transfer. An Innovation programme will provide advisory services on Intellectual Property Rights, assistance with R&D Grants and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, as well as brokering collaboration between companies and Higher Education Institutes and alerting SMEs to public procurement opportunities.
  • New goals to increase the rate of knowledge transfer and level of interaction between science and business - to be taken forward by the Director General of the Research Councils with each Council.

Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said: "Innovation is the successful exploitation of new ideas. We want to get ideas out of the lab, into the factory and onto the balance sheet to help British businesses compete in the global market.

"For the economy as a whole, innovation is the key to higher productivity and greater prosperity for all. We have already laid the foundations of an innovation-driven economy by creating a stable macroeconomic environment, boosting competition, promoting fair and free trade and improving education and skills.

"But there is more to do. To hold our own in modern manufacturing we will need to innovate strongly by creating new high-tech manufacturing industries and upgrading traditional sectors such as steel and textiles. At the same time we need to raise the level of innovation in our service industries."

Competing in the Global Economy: The Innovation Challenge highlights how action will be taken across government. Other proposals include:

  • Office of Government Commerce will produce best practice guidance on capturing innovation from suppliers and as pilot projects the Department of Health will promote innovative hospital design and greater uptake of telecare and telemedicine technologies.
  • A regional drive on innovation with refocused DTI support for investment in the Assisted Areas to help create sustainable high-value investment and jobs. Regional Science and Industry Councils will be set up and high-tech clusters supported.
  • Patent Office is to target SMEs in a major awareness-raising programme on intellectual property (IP), and will develop a national strategy for dealing with IP crime.
  • The National Measurement System will increase its research on emerging technology areas such as the biosciences and nanotechnology and the Design Council will launch a series of demonstrations to show how design can raise the innovation and profitability in manufacturing, emerging technology and service industries.

Science and Innovation Minister Lord Sainsbury who led the review said: "We are increasing the funding by our Research Councils of scientific and engineering research from £1.3 bn in 1997-98 to nearly £3 bn by 2005-06. We now need to see a step change in our rate of innovation.

"We want the UK to be a key knowledge hub in the global economy: a country with a reputation not only for outstanding scientific and technological discovery, but also for turning that knowledge into new and exciting products and services; a country that invests heavily in business R&D and education and skills, and exports value-added goods and services around the world.

"The Innovation Report sets out what we need to do as a country to meet the innovation challenge and secure future economic success."

The Report recognises that innovation depends on the knowledge, skills and creativity of people at work. The Government's Skills Strategy will equip the workforce for the innovation challenge and the Innovation Report sets out in detail DTI's role in ensuring workers have the skills that business needs. A new CBI/TUC taskforce on innovation will also be set up.

Welcoming the report CBI Deputy Director General John Cridland said: "Implementation holds the key to success on Innovation. Appointing the Secretary of State to lead a Ministerial roll-out across government is an encouraging first step but we need to see action from all areas of government and a genuine commitment to press ahead with improvements.

"Business is particularly keen to see development of the intelligent customer role for government, out-come based regulation and a new dynamic technology strategy".

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "Innovation in work organisation and employment practices is vital if new products, technologies and processes are to deliver high performance workplaces of the future. The TUC welcomes the Innovation Report and looks forward to working with Ministers and others in following up its recommendations."

Posted 17th December 2003

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