THE BLOG

With the UK Top for Science and Technology, it's Time to Close the Innovation Gap

09/07/2014 16:01 BST | Updated 07/09/2014 10:59 BST

It's official folks! The UK contributes more to science and technology than any other country in the world. That's what the results of the Good Country Index say. We finished first for science and technology, beating the USA, Germany and all other nations because of our track record of publishing top research, winning Nobel prizes and registering important patents. We should be truly proud of this magnificent result.

Our scientific heritage

Britain has an outstanding scientific heritage. Scientists working in the UK have been responsible for countless inventions and discoveries that have improved lives and expanded human knowledge - from life-enhancing inventions like the telephone and the World Wide Web to important discoveries such as penicillin, gravity and Halley's Comet. And let's not forget that this research excellence continues today.

We have an exceptional pharmaceuticals industry; our programmers are some of the best in the world and Britain is home to many of the most innovative digital companies. Our bioscience industry is worth around £20 billion, and has a track record of developing new treatments for HIV, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. And I'm also proud to say - as Chair of the Parliamentary Space Committee - we are leading the world in the satellite and space industries.

Innovation gap

But as well as producing this world-leading research and developing unique new materials we must make sure that we take economic advantage of our discoveries, translating them into new businesses, jobs and economic growth. Sadly this is something we have not found easy to do. This mismatch between our research excellence and our ability to take commercial advantage of it is called 'the innovation gap'. And we need to close it.

To take one example, although graphene was discovered in a physics laboratory in Manchester 10 years ago, the FT reported this year that the UK had only filed 101 patents for this massively important substance - just a 1 per cent share of all patents for graphene.

Topping the tables

The Government has made some good progress. The Conservative-led Coalition continues to roll-out 'catapult' centres that bring together researchers and businesses in one place, and the Chancellor has recently announced a new programme of support for big data in the UK.

But we must continue to narrow this innovation gap. We can do so by ensuring that the Government has created - and continues to create - the right business environment for science and technology companies to invest and grow. This will mean making sure young people have the skills they need to go into technical industries, and lowering taxes on businesses, so science and tech companies choose to relocate their R&D centres to the UK.

To keep Britain at the forefront of the international competitiveness league tables, science and technology must remain a backbone of British industry. If innovative businesses thrive in the UK, they will develop products and services that other countries want to buy, lifting us to the top of the world export rankings. Jobs, investment and economic growth will follow.

The Good Country Index rightly puts Britain at the head of the international scientific league tables. We now must push on to head the international competitiveness and productivity tables. It is great to see the UK recognised as a world-leader in science research. With the right measures we can swiftly become a world-leader in the science industries too.