British company investment in research and development is falling further behind international competitors despite a 5 per cent rise last year in top firms' investment.
The 1998 United Kingdom R&D scoreboard published this week showed a rise of 17 per cent among top United States companies and an average rise of 10 per cent among the top 300 international R&D investing companies.
David Tonkin, managing director of Company Reporting Ltd, which compiles the annual scoreboard for the Department of Trade and Industry, said the comparatively slow rate of investment by UK companies is a "genuine cause for concern".
The figures hide pockets of high investment. Many of the UK pharmaceutical giants invest a greater percentage of turnover in R&D than many international competitors, putting the UK pharmaceuticals sector top of the international R&D league.
Glaxo Wellcome heads the chart of British companies with an R&D spend in 1997 of more than Pounds 1.1 billion. However this puts it just 34th in the international ranking.
John Battle, minister for science, said: "No company can expect profits and growth tomorrow without serious investment today."
Only the US stands out as having companies with a significantly greater than average intensity of R&D investment regardless of measurement criteria, he said.