Difficulty and opportunity

Last Tuesday night, ahead of the Budget speech, I was speaking at a black tie dinner for members of AIRTO -the Association of Independent Research Technology Organisations.

This is a membership organisation for high technology research businesses in the UK, many similar to us in that they work with other companies at the forefront of research and technology development.  Indeed over the last twelve months I have visited many of them – for example TWI at Cambridge and Sheffield; QinetiQ’s facilities in the Malvern hills where they developing state of the art encryption and security technologies; the Food Research Association in Chipping Campden; MIRA, who have  worked closely with us on low carbon vehicles, the Building Research Establishment at Watford; ARUP - and the list goes on. A recent report from Oxford Economic Forecasting highlights just what a contribution these independent research technology organisations make to the UK economy.

Like me, these companies eagerly awaited the outcome of the budget to see how they would be impacted.  For the Technology Strategy Board, pre-budget indications had been very positive – with businesses and stakeholders all supporting our stance that increased resources should be available for investment in enabled innovation.

On the Monday the Government’s strategic vision for Britain’s Recovery - Building Britain’s Future; New Industry, New Jobs - had been issued, with much publicity.  The vision echoed our own conviction – a core judgement that “it is better to keep investing in growth and jobs so as to speed recovery and build the manufacturing and services we need for the future.”

I find the best way to illustrate this to others is to note that world-leading companies such as Apple, Google and Fedex , to name but three, all had their origins in a previous recession.

The report makes much of new technologies driving both consumer and business demands and looks to establish the Technology Strategy Board as a global leading organisation in innovation – “spearheading innovation in areas where there are business opportunities for future growth, including advanced manufacturing, clean technology, life sciences and the digital economy”.

It is the ambition of the Technology Strategy Board to be at the heart of all the areas of work identified in the key ‘next steps’ of the report.

I believe that the work of the Independent Research Technology Organisations adds significant value in each of these areas and will be a major contributor to the agenda moving forward.

During the AIRTO dinner, the outcome of the budget was as difficult to predict as the result of the Liverpool V Arsenal match being played the same night. Indeed, the 4-4 scoreline was an indication of the tension and the high stakes involved – in some ways similar to the atmosphere surrounding our call for additional funding for innovation.

In many respects the Budget delivered in this area. The announcement of a £750 million Strategic Investment Fund to back up the calls for action in the earlier paper New Industry, New Jobs was a good outcome.  The fact that £50 million of this was specifically identified for the Technology Strategy Board reinforces the role we are expected to play.  The remainder of the £750 million has not yet been allocated in detail, but given the emphasis of our work on low carbon vehicles, digital Britain, life sciences, advanced manufacturing and low carbon energy technologies I would expect to see The Technology Strategy Board playing a significant part in wider activities involving these areas.

Overall I see the budget as positively reinforcing our leadership role –and making an important step towards implementation of the technology investments identified in New Industry, New Jobs.

As Einstein said, “…in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” It is this opportunity that our organisation will help to create and make the most of - together with business, the independent research technology organisations and our other partners.  As I said at the AIRTO dinner, the good news is that, contrary to what we read, the future has not been cancelled.

 

Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:35

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