Catapult centres ‘should number 30 by 2030’

The government should double the annual budget of its innovation agency to £1 billion so it can establish more “Catapult” centres, a new report says

November 5, 2014

Boosting the funds available for the centres will allow partnerships between academics and industry to take on risky but economically rewarding commercialisation work, says the report commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The report, authored by entrepreneur Herman Hauser, says that the UK Catapult network should expand at the rate of one or two per year so that 30 are established by 2030.

Dr Hauser originally advised the government in 2010 to establish a series of technology and innovation centres similar to Germany’s successful Fraunhofer applied research institutes to help to commercialise research. Since then seven Catapults have been established and two more are due to open in 2015.

In March this year, business secretary Vince Cable and David Willetts, the science and universities minister at the time, asked Dr Hauser to review the future of the network. The resulting report, published today, will feed into the Treasury’s Autumn Statement.

It says that the government spends less on research and development as a proportion of GDP than comparative countries. Further investment in Catapults is needed to close the gap and ensure that value is not lost from the existing centres.

Increasing the budget for Innovate UK would expand the network to a £400 million per year set up by 2030, it says, adding that the existing Catapult funding model should remain in place. Currently, one third of funding comes from the government, another third from industry and the remaining third from collaborative projects.

“Without a long-term commitment from government to the balanced funding model, Catapults risk becoming focused on established markets where returns are more certain, rather than emerging opportunities which are riskier, but present large potential social and economic returns,” the report says.

In a statement Dr Hauser said that he was “genuinely surprised” by the degree of progress that the Catapults have made in the past four years. He said: “The UK is playing catch up with the best innovation systems in the world in translational infrastructure, so I was very encouraged to see how rapidly we are closing the gap.”

He added that in the years ahead the Catapults could have a “long-lasting impact” on the country’s economic performance.

Mr Cable said that the government will “carefully consider” the findings of the review, which will “inform the thinking” around the Science and Innovation Strategy due to be published next month.

“Innovation without commercialisation is like a car without an engine…I want to make sure we are getting enough bang for our buck,” he added.

The report also calls for the Catapults to develop “a stronger more coherent engagement model for working with universities” to help industry to gain a competitive advantage.

Other recommendations outlined in the report include developing new metrics to measure a Catapult’s impact and a potential role for the centres in innovation policy.

holly.else@tesglobal.com

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