Innovation requires 'many free-thinking heads'

April 10, 2008

Innovation policy must focus less on edicts from central Government and more on enabling free thinkers to collaborate, David Cameron has said.

The Conservative Party leader, speaking last week at an event hosted by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, said: "The odd thing about the Government's innovation policy is how uninnovative it is. It is about more spending and more state control."

He criticised the Government's science and innovation White Paper, published last month, which proposed to create a Whitehall hub for innovation. "There's something about (it) that doesn't ring true. Whitehall and innovation don't really go together, for the simple reason that innovation is the product of many heads, not a few, and of free thinking rather than state control," he said.

"We need to stimulate precisely the sort of odd energies that no plan could design, such as the partnership of the physicist Francis Crick and the zoologist James Watson ... (whose) work on the double helix was a case of one plus one equals 12."

Mr Cameron also made the case for UK universities to follow the example of their counterparts in the US to create hotbeds for innovation.

"There's no doubt that around Oxford, around Cambridge, you are beginning to get that cluster of great scientists, science-based businesses, entrepreneurs taking ideas forward, but it's nowhere near as impressive as what happens around Stanford University in California," he said.

Speaking at the same event, Adam Afriyie, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Universities and Skills, said: "We spend a vast amount of taxpayers' money on research, nearly £3 billion each year ... Yet over the past decade we have nose-dived; we've slipped from fourth to 11th in world competition tables."

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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