A report by Pragmatic
How can the UK turbocharge its ambition to become a science and technology superpower?
In 2021, the former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson MP, set out his ambition of making the UK a scientific superpower by 2030. The ambition reflected the fact that, with an increasingly globalised and digitally driven economy, the UK’s position as a leading-edge science and technology nation would be critical to our place in the world.
The current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has also placed this goal at the centre of his policy agenda, with the creation of the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and the publication of the UK Science and Technology Framework in March 2023.
The Government has an existing, firm foundation upon which to build.
From Newton and Darwin, to the UK becoming the first European country to reach 100 Unicorns (tech companies worth over $1bn), the UK has an excellent track record in science. With the creation of the National Science and Technology Council and its goal of increasing public R&D funding to £20 billion by 2024/25, the Government initially appeared to underpin its ambition with action.
And yet, in August 2022, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee warned that the Government’s vision risks becoming an empty slogan.
As the Government continues to devise and implement policies to support its goal to make the UK a science and technology superpower, including the publication of its Framework, a number of questions remain: will enough be done to reach that goal in 2030? What more must be done to supercharge the UK’s efforts?
It was with this in mind that Pragmatic brought together a group for experts to discuss recommendations, solutions and strategies that will help the UK realise its ambition to become a science and technology superpower.
The insights shared during that parliamentary roundtable have been combined with the results of a survey of science and technology business leaders on their views of the Government’s ambition. This report is a summary of those findings, complete with recommendations for government and industry, which build and expand on existing Government frameworks and approaches.
The aim is to highlight meaningful strategies for making the UK the best place in the world to build and grow a science business, develop the next generation of tech entrepreneurs, and manufacture the latest technological advances.
1) Following the publication of the UK Science and Technology Framework, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology should expeditiously publish the remaining promised white papers and strategies to support the flourishing of the five ‘critical technologies’ (semiconductors, quantum, AI, engineering biology and future telecoms) the Department has identified, to provide the clarity and certainty that will underpin future investment decisions in the sector.
2) The Government should consider how best to create a level playing field for UK-based science and technology companies in comparison with other global markets. This could include, but is not limited to, targeted incentives such as support for capital investment – in particular in emerging technologies where securing investment for capital expenditure is a particular challenge.
3) To build on the Government’s vision to “create a demand for innovation that can catalyse [departments’] buying power into economic growth”, the Government should commission a cross-departmental review of how it uses public sector procurement as a tool to support cutting-edge science and technology companies. This should include assessing how departmental guidelines for procurement decisions can ensure support for this crucial sector.
4) The Government should consider how new, innovative models for delivering technologies may assist in creating a more secure supply chain for UK manufacturing. These innovative models should be identified, and where appropriate, their adoption encouraged and facilitated via public sector procurement.
5) The Government should convene an expert advisory panel to identify and implement steps to cultivate a more dynamic and confident approach from British investors to investing in innovative, but perhaps less proven, UK science and technology businesses.
6) The Government, working with the existing Catapult network and other expert bodies, should examine how a platform could be created that better marries tech investors and technology experts to guide investment decisions.
7) The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, working with the Department for Business and Trade, should prioritise broad, global communication campaigns to promote British success stories in science and technology, including a focus on role models to inspire the next generation of tech entrepreneurs.
8) The Home Office, working with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, should review how the current visa process for the sector could be streamlined to reduce the costs and administrative burden for science and technology companies recruiting talent from abroad.
9) The Government should consider how it can encourage the creation of more opportunities for British post-graduates to undertake secondments and work placements in science and innovation hubs abroad, such as Silicon Valley. This could include making the creation of such placements a pre-condition for foreign businesses to establish operations in the UK.
10) The Department for Education, working with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, and the Department for Business and Trade, should consider how it can better promote STEM careers in schools, working in partnership with businesses in the sector. This could include fostering improved links between innovative science and technology companies and local educational institutions.