Britain is one of the world leaders in technological and scientific research and innovation—but how can this be used to benefit to the country? Prospect convened a panel of experts to discuss the question of how innovation can help to seed economic growth and to ask what science can do for Britain.
Sir Mark Walport, the Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation, which is responsible for the public funding of new science research projects stressed that science should only ever be seen as part of a solution. “We need to define science in the broadest, natural philosophy sense,” he said. “If we are going to achieve the most we can,” he said, “we must humanise technology.” The UK has always been very good at this, he remarked, especially through the creative use of design. “We also do that through excellent regulation.”
Walport went on to note that, economically, Britain is an uneven country. This unevenness exists within business sectors, where the gap between the least and most productive companies is wider in Britain than almost any other OECD country. There are also geographical disparities, and the question is what the best policies are to tackle that.
And looming over all of this is the disruption caused by new communications technologies and Walport went on to outline what he termed “global disruptions,” such as “the extraordinary industrial revolution we are going through at the moment,” in engineering, which includes robotics and the life sciences and our understanding of the genome.
These were accompanied by global challenges, of which the two greatest were population growth and the waste we produce, both visible and invisible. “The ingredients of science are relatively straightforward,” he said. “It’s about talent—about people. It’s about being global,” and Waport said that in his view the government was doing the right thing on visas to allow talented people to work in Britain. That issue will become increasingly significant as we detach further from the EU.
The challenges ahead are so great, he said, that no single entity could hope to solve them. A challenge such as climate change, “can’t simply be done through the competitive engine of businesses,” he said. Government, business and the science establishment needed to cooperate more. Government, he said broadly shared that view.
Andrew Jamieson of the Catapult network, recognised the significance of regional economic…