Research, innovate, grow: the role of science in our long-term economic plan

Science Minister Jo Johnson outlines how British research and innovation will drive growth and ensure better living standards for the next generation to come.


Thank you for the invitation to speak at this important conference.

I’m glad to address this important theme - ‘Research, innovate, grow’ - which precisely captures the role of science in our long-term economic plan.

Great science is, of course, important in its own right as well as yielding enormous practical benefits– curing diseases, driving technological innovation, promoting business investment and informing public policy for the better.

UK taxpayers invest £10 billion a year in research and innovation.

This government has prioritised research funding and ensured that the ring-fence was protected this financial year, even as we had to make difficult decisions about cuts elsewhere.

And we will invest new capital on a record scale – £6.9 billion in the UK’s research infrastructure up to 2021 – which will mean new equipment, new laboratories and new research institutes.

This long-term commitment includes £2.9 billion for a Grand Challenges Fund, which will allow us to invest in major research facilities of national significance, such as the new Turing Institute, our new state-of-the-art Polar Research Vessel, which will enable UK polar scientists to remain at the forefront of Arctic and Antarctic research, and the Square Kilometre Array - the largest radio telescope and the largest scientific instrument on the planet.

We should be rightly proud of the fact that we will host the headquarters of the Square Kilometre Array telescope at Manchester University’s Jodrell Bank.

Touring the UK

In my role, I’m travelling the length and breadth of the country to see how this record capital investment is being put to good use across the UK. I’m seeing first-hand the impact of our science base, and the work of the Research Councils.

I visited the Met Office 10 days ago, where we are investing £97 million in a new supercomputer that will be 13 times more powerful than their current system. I learned in advance of the heatwave we are now experiencing. Very accurate, it was too. This investment will cement the UK’s position as a world leader in weather and climate prediction.

In my visit to the Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering in Leeds, home to 4 EPSRC centres, I saw pioneering research on biological scaffolds that has underpinned the development of Tissue Regenix, one of the UK’s leading spin-outs in medical technology

I have also recently had the privilege to launch a £113 million capital investment partnership with IBM at the Hartree Centre in Daresbury. This investment represents a leap forward for high-performance computing and our capability to analyse and use big data, as well as for the North West and the UK. IBM will further support the project with a package worth up to £200 million.

This is one example of how public sector funding leverages private sector support.

The idea is that expanding the Hartree Centre substantially, both at Daresbury and Harwell will encourage global and UK companies active in data centric research to co-locate and to join the research programme, bringing additional inward investment.

Over the past year we have seen an 11% increase in inward investment projects with an R&D element. Such collaborations are often a precursor to major foreign direct investment, paving the way for long-term relationships.

Commitment to innovation

As we set out in our manifesto, the government is committed to making Britain the best place in Europe to innovate, patent new ideas and start and grow a business. We need to do more to help universities and businesses work more closely. Not just to commercialise past research, but to help inspire current and future research to meet the challenges of a fiercely competitive global market. Later today I am looking forward to attending the launch of the Professor Dame Ann Dowling’s review, which will no doubt provide many valuable insights into how UK businesses and universities can collaborate more effectively.

The government has already committed to a range of measures aimed at encouraging business to invest in and adopt new research and development. These include our plans to create over 1,000 jobs in high-tech small businesses by 2020 through our investment in 4 University Enterprise Zones, spread across the country in Bristol, Bradford, Liverpool and Nottingham.

This government has also committed to creating more Catapults – R&D hubs in the technologies of the future – to ensure that we have a bold and comprehensive offer to enable Britain’s researchers and innovators to commercialise more emerging technologies, technologies where the UK has the potential to lead the world.

I’ve already visited 2 of the 7 in the existing network of Catapults - Cell Therapy and Future Cities. At Future Cities, I met businesses large and small and universities, working with the Catapult on their innovations. It was good to hear the difference that the Catapults are making to those businesses with which they work.


As we head into the Budget and the Spending Review, we know we couldn’t have a Chancellor more committed to research. The Chancellor has said science is a personal passion. As he set out in his CBI speech last month, science and innovation are a vital element of our productivity plan. And I give you my personal commitment that I will also be a champion for Great British science and research.

We have a once in a generation opportunity, right now, to find an extra gear for the British economy, and ensure higher living standards for the next generation to come. There is no doubt that the drivers of change are to be found in this room. You have my full support as Science Minister to research, innovate and help our economy grow.