Ministers rapped on regional research

May 23, 2003

Government policy lacks clarity on how to encourage regional innovation and enterprise, a seminar in Manchester heard last week. There was also said to be tension between national and regional needs.

Steve Rayner, professor of science in society at Oxford University and director of the Economic and Social Research Council's science in society programme, questioned the wisdom of all regional development agencies trying to set up world-class centres in similar research areas.

He told the seminar, organised by the Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures (Surf) at Salford University, that there was no necessary connection between science research and economic growth. He urged further research into "social capital". He said: "We're trying to force the pace of economic development without paying attention to the social aspects of a region."

When RDAs were set up in 1999 they initially took little interest in universities, but many now put them at the centre of their economic strategies. Some are ploughing millions into creating world-class centres of excellence.

Simon Marvin, director of Surf, said the row over the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire had marked the start of a new regionalisation of science policy in the UK.

In March 2000, Daresbury lost out on £550 million when ministers chose to site the new-generation synchrotron radiation machine at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire rather than at Daresbury, home of the current synchrotron facility.

Professor Marvin said scientific excellence was no longer sufficient for deciding where to fund research. But he added: "Daresbury put the centre under pressure. It was the first time the centre was told by a region that it had failed to acknowledge its needs."

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