Labour launches Green Paper on science policy

Labour will use a long-term plan for research funding to help create high-wage jobs, ending “uncertainty” in science policy created by the coalition.

June 24, 2014

That is the position set out by Liam Byrne, shadow minister for universities, science and skills, in a Green Paper inviting views on Labour’s science policy, published today.

The paper, which sets out four areas where “change is needed”, also says universities “must play a role in the UK’s national system of innovation”.

Science policy can help tackle a “cost of living crisis”, says the paper, titled “One Nation Labour’s Plan for Science”.

Mr Byrne notes the influx of low-paid workers entering the world’s labour market from India and China. He adds: “The only way developed countries can compete is by competing in high value markets that compete on quality, underpinned by well-paid and skilled workers, and growing high value-added industries that require innovation and a highly skilled workforce, such as IT, aerospace and pharmaceuticals.”

Labour created a long-term “Science and Innovation Investment Framework” which ran from 2004 to 2014 and led to increases in funding via the research councils, and set strategy for boosting R&D intensity of companies, Mr Byrne says.

He argues that the coalition failed to build on that momentum, instead making “damaging mistakes”. He criticises the coalition’s approach to the science budget, saying there have been “cuts to science capital followed by unplanned and ad hoc top-ups”, which has “created uncertainty for the sector”.

The first change he proposes is moving “from short-term policy making to an active government promoting long-term certainty on investment”. He adds that in terms of technological efforts, many competitor nations “prioritise government spending by focusing on ‘grand challenges’ that affect society. We could do the same.”

The second change is requiring the UK “to adopt an outward facing, engaged approach to the world”, recognising that “in the future even more of the funds, talent and ideas we need will come from overseas”.

The third is “to ensure that science and innovation are powering growth in our regional economies”, where Mr Byrne notes that strong regional growth hubs like Cambridge “have strong universities at their core”.

The fourth and final change identified by Mr Byrne is “to set out the foundations for a digital future”, ensuring that citizens benefit from big data and digital technology.

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