Eight great technologies
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The ‘eight great technologies’ which will propel the UK to future growth receive a funding boost.
In January last year I spoke at Policy Exchange about the importance of a high tech industrial strategy. There is a lot that government can and must do to drive the development of key general purpose technologies. Today I can update you on the progress we are making and announce where we’re providing more funding for these key technologies.
Vince Cable set out in an important speech in September 2012 our approach to industrial strategy. It is a long term approach across the whole of government, to give business the confidence to invest and grow. We are taking action to make this happen. Technologies and the broader research which underpins their development is a fundamental part of our approach to industrial strategy. Today I can set out new decisions to drive this forward.
We are fortunate to have a very broad science and research base. Indeed there is no other medium sized economy which has anything like our range of world class research activity. This is clearly demonstrated in the Research Council impact reports that are being published today. The reports illustrate the value to the economy and to society of the funding that we provide for science and research every year.
It is not just the Nobel prizes, the winners of the Fields medal and the world famous professors. Whenever there is a crisis, a civil war, or a coup d’état anywhere in the world we are likely to have a historian who has some understanding of the background, anthropologists who know the culture, and someone who can speak the language. This is an extraordinary privilege which we must not take for granted: citizens of very few other countries have such a wide open window on the world. The very range of what we do is one of our greatest assets, especially as great technological and scientific advances depend on breaking down the conventional barriers between disciplines.
We have the extraordinary advantage of being the only medium-size country that has such a range of scientific activities. We have world class scientific institutes and research intensive universities. This includes humanities and social sciences. It is not just STEM it is STEAM – Science Technology Engineering Arts and Maths. Reed Elsevier’s 2011 review of the comparative performance of the UK Research Base identifies ‘over four hundred niche areas of research in which the UK is distinctively strong’.
One of the main aims of our science policy is to maintain that breadth and not to find ourselves forced to trade off being world class in life sciences or history or physics. We do not direct our scientific and research community into particular research projects. Instead our science community rightly enjoys extraordinary autonomy as funding is largely allocated on the principle of excellence determined by academic peer review. This is the first pillar for our science and innovation policy.
There is a second pillar too. After the failure of the economic interventionism of the 1970s and the triumph of the liberal revolution in economic policy of the 1980s we are wary of Government trying to pick winners. In so far as government can raise the growth rate we tend therefore to focus on measures which apply across the economy as a whole – deregulation or lower corporate taxes or ease of setting up a business. We perform well on many of these measures – the UK is already ranked 2nd in the G7 for ease of doing business. Until recently we have tended to favour these so- called ‘horizontal’ measures rather than ‘vertical’ ones which focus on particular sectors.
Put the breadth of our science base together with the dominant intellectual climate and you get classic British policy on science and technology. We finance a broad range of research selected by fellow scientists on the basis of its excellence. The government is working hard at tearing down the barriers to the smooth functioning of a modern market economy. Strong science and flexible markets is a good combination of policies. But, like patriotism, it is not enough. It misses out crucial stuff in the middle – real decisions on backing key technologies on their journey from the lab to the marketplace. It is the missing third pillar to any successful high tech strategy. It is R&D and technology and engineering as distinct from pure science. It is our historic failure to back this which lies behind the familiar problems of the so-called ‘valley of death’ between scientific discoveries and commercial applications. Also, as we shall see, it helps to explain our belief that we lack a culture of risk-taking.
We are living now with the long-term consequences of the failure to have a policy backing these key technologies. Look at the business sectors where we are strong - creative industries, financial services, construction, new web-based services. They all share a crucial feature. They are all areas without capital-intensive R&D. So paradoxically the very aversion to backing particular technologies with R&D has itself contributed to a change in the structure of the British economy - an economy which innovates but does not do as much R&D as many of our competitors.
Focusing on R&D and on particular technologies is not the same as picking winners, which notoriously became losers picking the pockets of tax payers. It is not backing particular businesses. Instead we are focusing on big general purpose technologies. Each one has implications potentially so significant that they stretch way beyond any one particular industrial sector. Information Technology has transformed retailing for example. Satellite services could deliver precision agriculture.
This is where we face the valley of death. It is after the pure science and before the usual process of individual companies developing particular products and processes. It is R&D. It is also where the British government used to play a crucial role, supporting the military industrial complex of the twentieth century ‘warfare state’ described by David Edgerton.
It is also what the US still does far more than we do. It is hard to see because you have to look behind the American rhetoric of limited government. Moreover the scale of federal and state activity is hidden because it is divided up between several different agencies. The rationale is often military and security in its broadest sense. There are other reasons too: after President Bush banned federal funds for stem cell therapies, California voted for $3 billion of funding for it in a referendum. I have visited their research funding body and it will not just fund pure research but also help on the new processes needed to manufacture these therapies and use them to treat patients.
Our research councils tend to focus on more upstream research whereas in the US, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Institutes for Health and the Department of Energy go further downstream closer to market. Sometimes our approach can look like mother birds pushing their fledglings out of the nest but with too many falling to the forest floor to be eaten by foxes. We think our problem is that we lack the same willingness to take risk as in America. But often we were expecting companies to step in earlier, taking more risk than in the US or elsewhere.
The Technology Strategy Board is a crucial but underestimated institution which can help plug that gap. It is working more closely than ever before with our Research Councils to get more sustained support from blue skies research to closer to commercialisation. As part of our life sciences strategy we set up a Biomedical Catalyst worth £180 million split 50/50 between the Medical Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) to take new medical innovations closer to practical application. Already this scheme is a real success. I am keen to repeat this model elsewhere. Yesterday, I announced a £25 million catalyst fund for Industrial Biotechnology and Bio Energy, linking the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the TSB.
The US does other things on a far more ambitious scale than us. They are more imaginative and bold in the use of procurement for example. Their support for innovative small businesses with Ronald Reagan’s Small Business Research Initiative is on a scale far greater than ours. Where government has a big role such as in medicine or security they harness that. The US Orphan Drugs Programme for example provides strong incentives for drug development. DARPA rests on the assumption that US security depends on harnessing key new technologies and they do that not just with research support but with contracts that are offered for new products at a very early stage. Indeed Silicon Valley originally grew on the back of contracts from the military for computers and IT.
Just showing that they do it in US doesn’t prove the point on its own. There are perhaps four specific objections which we need to address.
First, we have to accept we make mistakes. We do not have perfect foresight. Some of the technologies for which we have high hopes today will turn out to be clunkers tomorrow. That is because this is all about taking risk – if the risk was much lower then we could indeed leave it to straightforward business decisions. But we do have a wide range of expertise to help us understand scientific and technological trends and we have set out our thinking more openly than ever before. Indeed that is why I am releasing today my pamphlet describing eight great technologies.
Secondly we are told that the high tech sector is small and the real big commercial issues are elsewhere. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines sectors as high tech if they devote more than four per cent of turnover to R&D. This is a demanding test. And companies or sectors which do this are unusual. But they can develop technologies which then go mainstream and have a massive impact way beyond any specific sector. These new technologies may be absorbed by business sectors that themselves do little R&D but are nevertheless transformed.
Thirdly there is the danger incumbents get the support not the insurgents. New small businesses are crucial and we have a range of programs specifically aimed at promoting them. But the fact is that lot of the R&D spend is in big business. Indeed our shortage of big primes at the top of the supply chain is one of our key industrial weaknesses. So big business does matter. Where we do have key primes – as in automotive, aerospace or life science, they themselves can be protectors of small business as they maintain a supply chain.
Moreover they may not have a cushy time. These new technologies are often deeply destabilising. They are a challenge to traditional businesses which find themselves having to adjust to the arrival of new technologies which disrupt what they do. The ones that survive have to move way beyond their traditional technologies and sectors. There is an interesting trend of patents being taken out for technologies which go way beyond the traditional activities of a business – the automotive sector taking out more patents in IT for example as it becomes crucial to the performance of a car.
Finally there is the fear politicians are always seduced by baubles. We go for glitzy new projects rather than what has real potential. That is why it is important we draw on expert advice which has to be more transparent than ever. The pamphlet which I am publishing today identifies eight great technologies. It is not my personal view. It distills work done by experts in the Research Councils, the Technology Strategy Board and foresight exercises conducted by the Government Office for Science. We have published their reports. In an important speech to the Royal Society last November George Osborne listed them and asked if people agreed with them. By and large our analysis has been accepted.
In the past I have drawn on the well recognised American account of four major technological advances – Bio, Nano, Info and Carbo or BNIC for short. It gives us extra confidence in the analysis behind the eight great technologies that they fit into these categories. The first three on our list of eight technologies are broadly information technologies. Then the discovery that biological data is digital moves us on to Bio. Advanced material design often involves nano technology. And our final technology is, in large part, about reducing carbon in our energy supplies.
As well as identifying these great technologies today I can set out more fully than ever before what Government is doing to back them. We are systematically working through all eight to ensure they are properly supported.
There are some basic steps we can take using the convening power of government. So here is Industrial Strategy 101. You set up a leadership council probably co-chaired by a BIS minister and a senior industry figure in which researchers, businesses, perhaps regulators and major public purchasers come together. You use it to get them talking to each other confidently and frankly. Then that group might commission a trusted expert to prepare a technology road map which assesses where the relevant technologies are heading over the next five years or so, where publicly funded research is going, and what business is likely to do. Just this exercise, before any increase in public funding, can transform behaviour. Some of the big companies for example might have a HQ abroad and it means their managers here and also BIS ministers can show to them what we are doing and encourage more investment here. It can encourage businesses sitting on piles of cash to invest when they see how it fits in alongside investment we are committed to putting in. You might go further and find that if the government puts some money up front it can get co-investment by others. You might find some key regulations which need to be eased, or perhaps the opposite and some need to be even introduced to help give confidence a new technology can safely be adopted. Government might be more open about its procurement plans than before and more willing to go for an innovative use of a new technology not settling for the tried and tested. But crucially you have a vehicle for making this happen and building mutual trust. The quality of links between business, the research community and government is itself a source of comparative advantage in the modern world.
Let me now very briefly review progress on each of these eight key technologies. They will be backed further by the decisions I am announcing today on the allocation of an extra £600 million of funding. This investment in science and technology, announced by George Osborne in the Autumn Statement, is additional to the ring-fenced science budget.
1. Big data
The power of computing and data handling is now becoming so great that classic distinctions between micro and macro effects are breaking down. We are reaching the stage of being able to model airflow across a turbine blade or the movement of a liquid through a tube at the molecular level. Computer modelling of an economy, a substance or a process is therefore becoming very different and far more sophisticated than it was even a decade ago. The importance of these developments is being recognised around the world. I note that I am giving this speech on the same date as the Data Innovation Day in the US.
We have set up the e-infrastructure leadership council co chaired by Dominic Tildesley, formerly a senior business executive from Unilever, and myself. We share with industry our plans for research funding so as to encourage co-investment by them. We are seeing the benefits already with companies such as IBM, Cisco and Intel making a number of investments into the UK. Business will invest more as they see us invest more in computational infrastructure to capture and analyse data flows released by the open data revolution.
The government invested an extra £150 million in e-Infrastructure in October 2011. This has been followed by a further allocation of an extra £189 million in the Autumn Statement. This will be invested over the next two years in key areas such as: bioinformatics and environmental monitoring.
Our investment in data has also ensured we maintain our leadership in social science. We have invested £23.5 million in the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)–led life study, the most ambitious birth cohort study yet, which will track 100,000 children from birth. The reason it is so ambitious is that it will also link genetic data, environmental data and educational outcome data.
The UK is once more seen as a leading space science nation. Companies have focussed on making satellite technology more affordable with smaller, lighter-weight satellites that lower the cost of commercial launches. Surrey Satellites Technologies (SSTL), one of the UK’s single most successful university spin-outs, is the world leader in high-performance small satellites. Roughly 40 per cent of the world’s small satellites come from Guildford – and now even smaller nano-satellites are coming from SSTL and Clydespace in Glasgow.
The Space Leadership Council is co-chaired by an industry executive and myself. The Coalition has made a series of significant investments in space over the past two years, and these investments have given the industry confidence to invest more for the future. Every major public sector investment has triggered commercial investments several times greater. We have also set up a Satellite Applications Catapult at Harwell.
In March 2011 we launched a £10m National Space Technology Programme in the UK and this original programme attracted £17 million in matched funding from institutional and industry investors. Early analysis suggests the return to the economy from this investment of £10 million will be between £50 million and £75 million.
Today I can announce that as a result of the Autumn Statement the Government will be investing an extra £25 million in the further implementation of the technology vision through Phase-2 of the National Space Technology Programme. This £25 million of further investment will meet un-met demand as many excellent projects were not supported in the first phase.
3. Robotics and autonomous systems
The UK has some distinctive strengths in this area, going back yet again to our abilities in software programming and data handling. Effective handling of data from a range of sources is key to autonomous systems and we have real skills here. It was an extraordinary feat of engineering to land NASA’s Curiosity probe on Mars last year. Its Mars Rover vehicle is however largely controlled from Earth with a delay of at least seven minutes as instructions travel to Mars. The European Mars Rover vehicle, due to land in 2018, is more autonomous, using mainly British technology to enable it to travel further during the Martian day and therefore carry out more investigations during its design life.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funds much of the research on robotics. It has so many different applications across different industrial sectors that the R&D effort is fragmented. There is also no single leading major industrial prime leading the development of the technology. In October 2012 I convened a meeting of key experts on robotics and autonomous systems at the Royal Academy of Engineering to discuss what more could be done to promote this important general purpose technology. The discussion showed the need to bring greater coordination of this research. The Technology Strategy Board is now creating a Special Interest Group on Robotics and Autonomous Systems which will shortly produce an outline technology road map to promote future investment. The participants in last October’s meeting also proposed academic centres of excellence that would both conduct basic research but also translate it for commercial application. For this reason I am announcing an investment of an extra £35 million for centres of excellence in Robotics & Autonomous Systems. They will be created in and around universities, innovation centres, science parks and enterprise sites and provide bespoke support for both university and industrial interests. Support from these centres of excellence will provide the missing link between our SMEs and primes in this technology area. They will be hubs of technical expertise and training, providing cutting edge facilities and opportunities for business networking.
In addition, the Technology Strategy Board will invest up to £1 million in feasibility studies to accelerate the development of novel robotics and autonomous systems concepts towards technology demonstration in multiple sectors. They will launch the competition in February.
4. Synthetic biology
Many of the critical discoveries related to DNA were made in Britain, in perhaps the world’s greatest post-War research institute – the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. It is not just the original discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick, drawing on work by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins.
More recently researchers funded by EPSRC, have successfully demonstrated that they can build some of the basic components for digital devices out of bacteria and DNA, which could pave the way for a new generation of biological computing devices. The researchers, from Imperial College London, have demonstrated that they can build logic gates or switches, which are used for processing information in devices such as computers and microprocessors, out of harmless gut bacteria and DNA. Although still a long way off, the team suggests that these biological logic gates or switches could one day form the building blocks in microscopic biological computers.
We produced a synthetic biology road map last year and a new Synthetic Biology Council has been established to ensure this road map is delivered. I co-chair it with Lionel Clarke, a senior executive from Shell.
We are making a series of investments in research in synthetic biology. The UK Research Councils and the Technology Strategy Board are spending over £90 million on world leading synthetic biology research and commercialisation including £20m announced by the Chancellor last November. We announced as part of our Life science strategy one year on that a further £50 million will be invested in synthetic biology as part of the subsequent Autumn Statement settlement. This will be used to support implementation of key recommendations from the UK Synthetic Biology roadmap, including establishing multidisciplinary research centres as well as a seed fund to support start-up companies and ‘pre-companies’.
We also announced that we are investing £38 million in a National Biologics Industry Innovation Centre. This investment will allow the development of a large scale facility for the manufacture of biologically produced medicines such as antibodies and vaccines.
At present no major pharmaceutical companies manufacture significant quantities of biologics in the UK so this centre will fill a gap in biologic manufacturing capability and strengthen the UK’s case as the location of choice for internationally mobile life sciences companies.
The centre will be managed by the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) as part of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult and also supports regenerative medicine.
5. Regenerative medicine
Regenerative medicine involves restoring function by replacing or restoring human cells, tissues or organs. There are three main approaches researchers are pursuing – transplantation of cells, tissues and organs, stimulation of the body’s own self-repair mechanisms; and the development of biomaterials for structural repairs. This is led by world class research in centres such as Edinburgh (where Dolly the sheep was cloned), Cambridge, Leeds, and London. Our research has moved on from Dolly the sheep to Jasper the dog. He had spinal injuries but was able to walk again by injecting his spinal cords with a specific type of stem cell. The potential applications for human medicine are easy to envisage.
The Research Councils and TSB recently published ‘A strategy for UK regenerative medicine’, including commitments of £25 million for the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform, (which is establishing multidisciplinary programmes to address the key roadblocks in developing therapies in this area) and £75m for translational research. Our Cell Therapy Catapult has now opened at Guy’s Hospital in London. An extra £20 million capital was allocated to the Regenerative Medicine Platform at Autumn Statement 2012 to provide imaging and cell manufacture technologies and a clean room.
Britain did not just lead the Industrial Revolution, we pioneered the Agricultural Revolution too. From leading that Agricultural Revolution in the late eighteenth century to new biotechnology-led advances, the UK has remained at the forefront of agricultural research.
Chickens are a prime example. Chickens are the world’s biggest source of meat, and are particularly important in Asia. We breed the world’s chickens - of the £85 billion global poultry market, 80 per cent of breeding chickens come from genetic stock developed in the UK. Thanks to our genetics research you get twice as much chicken for a given amount of chicken feed as 20 years ago. Each year we launch a new breed of chicken which will produce many generations over a year or more before a new improved version comes along. This is possible because of close links between the Roslin Institute, with its world leading R&D, and our commercial sector.
BIS and DEFRA are working together with industry to strengthen links between research spend and agricultural policy. This work will be brought together in a new agri-tech strategy over the next few months. We are already investing £250 million in the transformation of the Pirbright Insititute of Animal Health as well as Babraham and Norwich research park. The Autumn Statement package earmarked £30m for capital investment in BBSRC’s world-leading agri-science campuses. A candidate for this funding is the construction of a new National Plant Phenomics Centre at Aberystwyth University.
7. Advanced materials
Advanced materials are a key tool for advanced manufacturing. UK businesses that produce and process materials have a turnover of around £170 billion per annum, represent 15 per cent of the country’s GDP and have exports valued at £50 billion. There has been quite rightly a flurry of interest in 3D printing, or ‘additive layer manufacturing’. This new technology is possible not just because of advances in IT but also because of advances in the materials that go into the process. It is no longer just a matter of printing out designer dolls: Southampton University has used advanced materials to show how we could print out a new aeroplane.
The Prime Minister convened a seminar last summer on advanced materials which showed the importance of advanced materials for advanced manufacturing. As a result I can announce an extra £45 million in advanced materials research, for new facilities and equipment in areas of UK strength such as advanced composites; high-performance alloys; low-energy electronics and telecommunications; materials for energy; and nano-materials for health.
In addition, we announced at the Autumn Statement a £28 million Expansion of the National Composites Centre (NCC), located on the Bristol and Bath Science Park. The NCC is one of the seven centres within the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. This investment will expand the NCC from 6,500 sq m in a single building to 11,500 sq m across two buildings, and give it the space to install equipment to work on larger structures made of composite materials.
It will also enable the NCC to increase the level of skills development it undertakes, by creating a new training centre for higher level and vocational skills development, training the next generation of engineers in manufacturing and materials technologies.
Efficient energy storage technologies could allow the UK to capitalise on its considerable excess energy production. While UK consumption peaks at 60GW, the UK has generation capacity of 80GW but storage capacity of only 3GW (primarily from the single Dinorwig water system in Wales). Greater energy storage capacity can save money and reduce the national carbon footprint at the same time.
It has the potential for delivering massive benefits – in terms of savings on UK energy spend, environmental benefits, economic growth and in enabling UK business to exploit these technologies internationally. Energy is one of the largest single themes in Research Council funded research, with a portfolio of over £600 million of total current awards. In addition the government will invest an extra £30 million to create dedicated R&D facilities to develop and test new grid scale storage technologies.
We are also considering a strategic opportunity to partner with the US Department of Energy in the development of small modular reactor technology.
Behind these technologies lie a network of research labs and facilities. They are a shared national asset for scientists but also of use to business too. We are systematically investing in them and trying to strengthen links between researchers and industry. Many of them are located on university campuses. We are promoting university/business collaboration by our imaginative Research Partnership for Investment Fund which has secured £1 billion of new investment on R&D facilities on our campuses. We are working with our partners to create the new Crick Institute in London which should be one of the world’s leading new medical research facilities when it opens in 2015. We are also creating seven Catapult Centres linking business and public funding for new technologies. We are stimulating research clusters like Harwell and Daresbury which are both now enterprise zones. I am delighted to announce that an extra £65 million from Autumn Statement 2012 will be invested in buildings, joint facilities and infrastructure to promote co-location of industrial and academic groups, and support high-tech business on campuses. Investment will mainly be focused around the development of four campuses: Rothamsted Research Campus, Aberystwyth (IBERS as I have already said), Harwell Oxford, and SciTech Daresbury.
This will enable the UK to accelerate the exploitation of its world leading research base to deliver jobs and growth by bringing together substantial, internationally significant research capabilities with a variety of users, supporting the setting up and development of innovative knowledge based companies in sectors ranging from food and farming through to the production of synthetic diamonds.
Scientists also need constantly to upgrade their equipment and labs. Indeed the inter-action between science and technology is itself one of the great drivers of innovation. For this reason we will be investing an extra £50 million in these over the next two years.
We are also encouraging academics to think about the wider impact of what they do. It does not mean faking forecasts of likely benefits. I welcome the recent step by EPSRC to tackle these anxieties.
For all these eight great technologies to come to market we also need excellent measurement and as part of the Autumn statement I can today announce we are providing an extra £25 million to build a state of the art laboratory for cutting edge measurement research. The creation of advanced facilities at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington will allow scientists there to undertake leading edge research in key nano and quantum metrology (measurement science) programmes.
This ability to make accurate measurements underpins the UK’s competitiveness in both existing markets and to underpin new technology that will support growth in the UK economy. For example Rolls Royce would not have been able to supply turbine blades to Airbus without measurement traceable to NPL; graphene could not have emerged as a viable proposition without the pioneering research work that NPL performed to be able to measure its properties.
Also to underpin the development of the technologies within these eight areas, we need highly skilled individuals. To support this EPSRC is making a £350 million investment in Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) to develop the talented people that will create future growth and a more sustainable future.
Centres will be in areas including the digital economy, renewable and nuclear energy, synthetic biology, materials technologies, regenerative medicine, data to knowledge, and advanced manufacturing.
This investment will refresh the current portfolio of Centres for Doctoral Training announced in 2008. Current students of these centres are helping change the world from reducing risk in the financial sector to pioneering 3D inkjet printing for individually tailored therapeutic drugs.
The government’s investment of £600 million through the Autumn Statement 2012 in Research Council infrastructure, and the facilities for applied research and development (R&D) will support the development of innovative technologies and strengthen the UK‘s competitive advantage in areas such as big data and energy efficient computing, synthetic biology and advanced materials.
I can now set out therefore the allocation of the extra £600 million of extra science funding committed from the Autumn Statement . There will be:
- £189 million for big data
- £25 million for space
- £35 million for robotics and autonomous systems
- £88 million for synthetic biology
- £20 million for regenerative medicine
- £30 million for agri-science campuses
- £73 million for advanced materials
- £30 million for energy
We have also committed a further:
- £35 million for research campuses
- £25 million for the advanced metrology lab
- £50 million for transformative equipment and infrastructure
Conclusion: a date for your diary
The pamphlet on our eight great technologies is being published today. I would like to invite you back in ten years time on 24 January 2023. There are risks of course. I may not be around. Policy Exchange may not be. But I hope most of us are and that we are still excited about science. Imagine that today we are burying a time capsule and we are going to open it up in ten years when we can take stock. One possibility is that of course technology has developed in a way completely different than set out here. I am still waiting to commute to work on a personal jet booster pack as operated by James Bond in Thunderball. There could well be new technologies which we just have not considered. We are not claiming perfect foresight. But in addition there are six real possibilities for the long-term impact of our strategy for these eight great technologies. Here they are.
1. False dawn
We are still waiting. The analysis broadly stands but it all takes longer than we had hoped. Robots for example are still trundling round labs but not yet waiting at our tables.
The technologies will not have worked out in the way we expected but new businesses have emerged in a more indirect route. As every romcom shows, things rarely work out in the direct routes we expect. ARM originates with the BBC Acorn computer project run out of Bristol.
3. Gone abroad
The technologies play out roughly as we describe but it all happens abroad. We have a few multi-millionaires who sold their ideas to foreign multinationals but not much else. This is one of my fears. It is the observation that we grow the world’s best corporate veal.
4. It’s here but it isn’t ours
We have grown the companies here so they have put down roots and we have got genuine expertise which cannot be shifted. But ultimately they are owned by a big corporate which has HQ somewhere else. Illumina is a happy example.
5. We have grown big new companies
Just as the US has got Google Amazon Facebook Ebay. We have got more companies like Vodaphone or GSK or Rolls Royce. We get regulations right. We have patient capital. We are the home to more top 500 companies than we are now.
6. We are purveyors of R&D to the world
We host the world’s clusters. From Formula One in Oxford/Warwick/Birmingham to Tech City in East London and space activity around Harwell, we are famous for our world class R&D centres. The emerging economies are keen to work with us because creating a world-class university from scratch is hard. It is smarter to work with ones you have. Britain is increasingly recognised as the world’s best R&D lab. We have achieved our ambition of being the best place in the world to do science. Multinationals base their R&D facilities here. Smart people from around the world want to come and research here. We have also earned a reputation as the best managers of big international scientific projects.
I believe that with our eight technologies we will probably have a mix of these outcomes. But I am optimistic. With our strong public support for R&D and these new measures for converting discovery into commercial opportunities we can indeed achieve a lot. We can help new businesses grow. We can be world’s R&D lab. We can indeed be the best place in the world to do science.