Memorandum submitted by the Confederation
of British Industry
1. We would like to make the following brief
comments on the current inquiry by the Select Committee. We also
draw the Committee's attention to the attached document, which
the CBI submitted to the Minister for Science earlier this year.
The attached paper was the CBI's contribution to the consultation
on the much anticipated Science and Innovation White Paper.
2. The annual publication of Forward Look
to provide a clear and up-to-date statement of the Government's
Strategy for science, engineering and technology (replacing the
more limited annual review).
3. The Forward Look has developed significantly
since its inception and is a useful resume of Government policy,
covering Departments, Research Councils and a few other bodies.
The most valuable aspect is the statistical review (of finances
and other data). The long time series of data on most tables is
welcome as is the attempt to show real term changes over time
by back calculating the effects of inflation. This is a useful
document for policy work and its continuance should be supported.
4. The creation of Technology Foresight
(now Foresight), designed to "achieve a key culture change:
better communication, interaction and mutual understanding between
the scientific community, industry and Government Departments".
5. The CBI has expressed support for the
continuation of this exercise. It serves a valuable role in getting
interested parties together to think constructively and imaginatively
about future challenges, opportunities and research requirements.
The challenge is to ensure the outcomes of the current exercise
can be translated into actionable points and priorities. In particular
the findings must be made more accessible to more than just the
"usual club" of research intensive companies if the
full potential of the exercise is to be realised.
6. A shifting of emphasis for technology
transfer initiatives to place more importance on "the interchange
of ideas, skills, know-how and knowledge between the science and
engineering base and industry".
7. Greater effort still needs to be put
into ensuring that research, skills and ideas locked up in the
UK science base are turned into innovative products and services
by UK companies. We have commented extensively on this in our
submission to the Office of Science and Technology consultation
on the new White Paper (see Annex).
8. Programmes to improve access for small
and medium-sized enterprises to innovation support programmes.
9. The CBI has welcomed the recent changes
in tax incentives for SMEs to encourage research and development.
Other changes providing better business support and encouragement
for innovation have also been somewhat successful. However, we
do have concerns about the number of initiatives that seem to
get introduced and whether they are as successful as might have
been hoped. A partial solution to this is to consider best practice
and successful ideas from other countries and whether they might
be applied here to similar or greater effect. For instance, we
note the success of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)
programme in the USA which gives valuable government contracts
to smaller innovative companies. We have expressed support for
considering a UK-version of SBIR in our White Paper submission
to the OST.
10. The abolition of the Advisory Council
on Science and Technology and its replacement with the Council
for Science and Technology "to help ensure that the Government
benefits from outside independent and expert advice when deciding
on its own research spending priorities".
11. The CST appears to have been largely
invisible since its creation. Only recently have we been made
aware of its activities and publications. We do see a role for
a group that can take a national strategic overview of science
base and innovation issues, but the CST may not be the right model.
Again, we comment on this in the attached paper.
12. The reorganisation of the Research Councils
with modified management structures and new mission statements
which made more explicit their commitments to wealth creation
and the quality of life.
13. The new Research Councils took a while
to settle down and there were concerns that a silo approach to
research funding would be the end result. However, in general,
this has not been the case. Structures are now slowly coming into
place to manage multi-discipline and multi-research council applications
and recent moves towards making this easier (eg with an individual
research council taking the lead if most of the proposal falls
within its remit) are welcome. Of course, improvements could still
be made on how initiatives that are common to more than one Research
Council are delivered.
14. We welcome the moves towards more responsive
mode funding, the creation of peer review pools and initiatives
to invite industry and other research users to take an active
part in review and direction setting.
15. So far, the balance between wealth creation
and quality of life activities has been about right. We note that
the boundaries between these two aims are becoming increasingly
blurred as the UK seeks to exploit research and new technologies
that will bring profits and, for example, improve health or the
16. We do not see any requirement for major
changes in the Research Councils so long as they continue to develop
their close working relationships with each other, with the research
community, and with research users. Our main concern is to ensure
that the Research Councils fully cover the cost of overheads relating
to the research projects that they fund.
17. The creation of the post of the Director-General
of the Research Councils and the absorption of the functions of
the Advisory Board for the Research Councils into the Office of
Science and Technology.
18. This post has been essential in co-ordinating
the activities of the Research Councils, ensuring that they work
together and maintain an approach that is both strategic and cost
effective. The post benefits from being occupied by an industrialist
who can think about long-term innovation and research while also
thinking about shorter-term priorities and applicability.
19. The launch of a new campaign to spread
understanding of science among school children and the public.
20. It is important that science remains
a core part of the national curriculum at both Primary and Secondary
levels and that all school leavers have a good understanding of
science if they are to make effective and informed decisions in
the modern world. Progress at Primary level has been encouraging
and the UK scores relatively well in international comparisons
of school-level science. However, we do have concerns about whether
double award science at GCSE is an effective preparation for later
learning. Greater encouragement needs to be given to students
to study science, maths and engineering at higher levels and to
consider such subjects as potential career choices.
21. In terms of the wider public understanding
of science this has perhaps been the least successful aspect of
the 1993 White Paper. Despite efforts with "Science Week"
and greater publicity for the work of the British Association,
confidence in science has been hit by a range of "news worthy"
issues that have damaged public trust. This is not something that
can be solved overnight, but instead requires renewed and co-ordinated
efforts involving industry, government, the professional bodies,
teachers, the media and a range of other opinion formers.
15 February 2000
14 Not printed. Back
Not printed. Back