Press release

Minister for Life Sciences says world-class Scottish Life Science Sector would be at risk in break-up of the UK

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Scotland’s world-class reputation for science and research is enhanced through access to UK-wide funding, infrastructure and skills.

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Scotland’s world-class reputation for science and research is enhanced through access to UK-wide funding, infrastructure and skills, the new Life Sciences Minister George Freeman will say on a visit to Edinburgh on Monday (18 August 2014).

The minister will visit 2 ground-breaking facilities which demonstrate the important role Research Councils play as a source of funding for UK life sciences, and the contribution life sciences make to the Scottish economy by sustaining high value jobs and contributing to the delivery of modern high quality healthcare to patients across the UK.

Scotland has benefitted from an integrated UK research framework, securing £257 million of UK Research Council grants in 2013, alongside medical research charities’ investment of around £1.1 billion per annum in research, 13% of which is spent in Scotland.

The minister will use his visit to discuss potential changes to research funding, including the impact on charities in the event of a vote in favour of independence. The current system allowing the free flow of ideas and collaboration between researchers across the UK, supports Scotland’s thriving research base, which is vital for innovation and economic success.

UK-wide research charities play an important role in funding and there are widespread concerns of the potential knock-on effects on business and charities’ research activities in both an independent Scottish state and the continuing UK, as tax and regulatory regimes diverge.

He will be visiting the Roslin Institute and the Edinburgh BioQuarter, 1 of the 5 life sciences Enterprise Areas sites created by the Scottish Government to stimulate business. In the past 2 years BioQuarter have spun out 8 new businesses, including i2eye Diagnostics Ltd in April 2012, creators of the world’s first visual field analyser for children and vulnerable patient groups. The Edinburgh Molecular Imaging (EMI), which is an Edinburgh BioQuarter spin-out company from the University of Edinburgh, has attracted a £4 million investment from a leading life science venture capital fund.

Life Science Minister George Freeman said:

Scottish science and innovation makes a vital contribution to the UK’s world-class research base, bringing benefits for business and society as a whole.

However, our position has been made very clear to date on this important issue: if Scotland left the UK, the current framework for research could not continue.

All the evidence suggests that being part of the UK complements and strengthens Scotland’s world-class research base. Scottish institutions and researchers benefit from substantial funding, underpinned by a UK-wide tax base, with access to a nationwide network of world-class facilities and skills.

Researchers across the UK, including Scotland, benefit from the UK’s international influence, networks and ability to attract inward investment. If research trials are being undertaken at multiple sites across the UK, as soon as there are differences in the regulatory and intellectual property regimes operating across the different sites, there could be additional costs and extensive uncertainty.

Collaborations between Scotland and the rest of the UK have resulted in ideas with the capacity to change our lives. These exciting partnerships are a symbol of what can be achieved without geographical boundaries and the best way for research to continue to flourish in Scotland is together as part of the UK.

I look forward to seeing first-hand the fantastic work that has been achieved to date during my visit to Edinburgh.

The BioQuarter is home to the Medical Research Council’s centre of regenerative medicine, a £59 million facility which opened in November 2011, housing more than 200 scientists and providing advanced manufacturing facilities for stem cells. The Roslin Institute undertakes research on the health and welfare of animals; and received £8.7 million of strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council last year. The Institute is known worldwide for having successfully cloned ‘Dolly’ the sheep.

Notes for editors

  1. The UK has one of the strongest and most productive life sciences sectors in the world, generating turnover of over £50 billion, with approximately 5,000 companies employing an estimated 176,000 people in the UK.
  2. Each Research Council funds research and training activities in a different area of research ranging across the arts and humanities, social sciences, engineering and physical sciences and the medical and life sciences. Together UK Research Councils support over 50,000 researchers including 19,000 doctoral students, around 14,000 research staff, and 2,000 research fellows in UK universities and in their own Research Institutes.
  3. Scotland benefits from an established funding structure which results in a high proportion of UK spending going to Scottish institutions. In 2012 to 2013 Scottish Higher Education Institutions secured £257 million of UK Research Council grants, which is 13.1% of the UK total. This is significantly more than Scotland’s 8% of GDP and 8.4% of the UK population. Including all Research Council funding Scotland secured £307 million, 10.7% of the UK total, in 2012 to 2013.
  4. There are currently around 650 life sciences companies providing 35,000 jobs in Scotland.
  5. There will be implications for the structure of research charities operating in the continuing UK and an independent Scottish state, including the accessibility to charitable funding that researchers in life sciences currently enjoy. When considering the medical research sphere, if research trials are being undertaken at multiple sites across the UK, as soon as there are differences in the regulatory and intellectual property regimes operating across the different sites, there could be additional costs and extensive uncertainty.
  6. The government of an independent Scottish state would have to set up new systems to fund research and encourage excellence. Businesses and research charities would have to adapt to these new systems, and funding projects in both the continuing UK and an independent Scottish state would become more complex.
  7. Access to UK-operated research institutions, and infrastructure by researchers in a newly independent Scottish state could not be guaranteed. Research and economic priorities would diverge over time, making collaboration more difficult.
  8. George Freeman is the first UK Minister for Life Sciences. Prior to being elected to Parliament in 2010 George Freeman had a 15 year career in the Life Science sector, setting up and raising finance for, high-growth start-up biomedical companies, including in Scotland. Part of the team behind Dundee-based Cyclacel Ltd and Glasgow-based Pantherix Ltd, George Freeman was retained by the Scottish Executive in 2005 to 2006 to help with the development of the Scottish Life Science Strategy. After 3 years as Life Science Adviser to the UK government, in July 2014 he was appointed by the Prime Minister as the first UK Minister for Life Sciences.
Published 18 August 2014