Despite all the other pressures, Business Secretary Alok Sharma published the government’s ‘Research and Development Roadmap’ on 1st July 2020.

It aims to “drive collaboration between government, industry, research organisations and local authorities to ensure research funding is accessible, boosts productivity, improves public services, creates high-quality jobs and delivers economic and societal benefits to communities across the UK.”

This sounds amazing and is certainly ambitious. But what does that mean for innovative businesses and will it be funded?

R&D Roadmap: The Vision

There are three main strands to this new R&D commitment from government:

  • “cement the UK as a world-leading super power”
  • £300 million investment in science infrastructure
  • New Office for Talent to attract global talent

And there are several, more specific ways they plan to meet them.

Money

£300 million of extra investment to be administered by the World Class Labs funding scheme. This is to maintain and update current research facilities, and make sure universities and other research institutes have the latest in digital and laboratory resources.

Office for Talent

The new Office for Talent is based at Number 10. Its purpose is to make it easier for the biggest scientific and innovative brains from around the world to get to the UK. This global recruitment of talent is intended to work at all levels, from students to “those who are already world leaders in their fields” – and everybody in between. The government want Britain to be the top destination for a diverse range of researchers.

This new team are also tasked with simplifying the layers of bureaucracy that surround immigration to the UK, so that emerging systems don’t become barriers to top talent.

Innovation Expert Group

This is also designed to remove any hurdles to the UK’s excellence by analysing government support of the research process; all the way from initial ideas to final product development.

EU R&D funding shortfalls covered

Many British businesses have benefited from grant funding from European innovation schemes, like Horizon Europe. This R&D roadmap includes a commitment from government that they will cover the shortfall left to those businesses, after the UK completely leaves the EU. And that it will create other schemes to make sure innovative research continues.

This is after stating that they are “seeking to agree a fair and balanced deal for participation in EU R&D schemes”. So they hope we can still be part of European innovation programmes, but if we can’t, our government will find the equivalent money.

There are lots of other smaller goals contained within this document’s very aspirational language. Talk about global partnerships, backing innovative entrepreneurs and start-ups and investing in “ground-breaking research”.

How do people feel about the R&D Roadmap?

The new R&D Roadmap has been welcomed by research and industry bodies alike.

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, said:

“Research and innovation are national strengths, central to our well-being, our economy, and our prosperity. The government’s R&D Roadmap emphasises this importance, sets out a clear ambition and recognises the vital role UK Research and Innovation will play in unlocking its full potential.

UKRI welcomes the continued commitment to a record increase in public investment in R&D to £22 billion a year by 2024/25. This investment will allow us to build, with others, an inclusive knowledge economy across the UK, a system we are all part of and proud of, which we can all contribute to and benefit from.”

Professor Karen Holford CBE FREng FLSW, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering Research Committee, said:

“This is unquestionably a time of uncertainty and challenge for research and innovation in the UK, yet we are also faced with a great opportunity to build back better with R&D at the heart of the economy. The publication of the R&D Roadmap confirms the government’s ambition to make that a reality. We are looking forward to working with the full breadth of the community and being part of the conversation that will follow. Investing in R&D is investing in the future.

We are a community of many parts – from the researchers in our universities pushing the boundaries of knowledge, the start-ups and entrepreneurs embracing risk, the innovators and businesses that are powered by R&D, to the institutions providing expertise and facilities. But working in collaboration with government we can be greater than the sum of our parts and deliver even more for the economy and society. I am particularly encouraged by the ambition to work across the devolved administrations and key stakeholders, the opportunity to maintain the positive collaborative behaviours emerging as a result of COVID-19 and the recognition of equality, diversity and inclusion as a critical aspect of research culture.”

And Science Minister Amanda Solloway, backs up her colleagues plan, saying:

“Coronavirus has shown us the agility, creativity and innovative thinking of our world-leading institutions, scientists and researchers to tackle this disease and save people’s lives. We want to harness this expertise to rejuvenate science and research across the UK, building a future that is greener, safer and healthier.

The R&D Roadmap will help us achieve our ambitions by unleashing the potential of science and research to embrace diversity, resilience and adaptability while tackling our biggest challenges such as achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

Other stakeholders were asked for their opinion in a survey that ran from the 1st July to 12th August 2020. We look forward to seeing how other innovators answered its in-depth, open questions. Did you manage to participate? Quite a difficult period in which to find the brain space, never mind the time.

The future of R&D in the UK is exciting in all industries. Such positive backing from government is a step in the right direction and we look forward to future announcements containing more practical details.

Jamie Smith