Independent research firms are confident that their long battle for access to support from research councils could soon be over.
In a report out last week, but finalised several weeks ago, the Association of Independent Research and Technology Organisations (Airto) says that the Department of Trade and Industry "should champion access for research and technology organisations to participation in research council programmes - in partnership with higher education institutions - as the first step in technology transfer from the science base to industry."
Only in this way, Airto says, the agenda created by the Government's technology foresight programme will permeate to all firms, especially small and medium companies.
The report has been published hot on the heels of the transfer of the Office of Science and Technology to the DTI and is remarkably well timed: the changeover only reinforces Airto's recommendations which are likely to be regarded sympathetically by the DTI.
Brian Blunden, managing director of packaging and paper research consultant Pira International, chaired the report's working party. He says: "We believe that in time we will have access to research council funding. But it really is not a case of taking money away from universities. We believe basic research in universities makes a crucial contribution to the wider economy and must be fully supported. What we in Airto are trying to access is a very, very small slice of the funding to act as a creative interface between academics and industry."
The report also recommends that the DTI advocate a new initiative to encourage a "cascading" of the Foresight initiative to the sectoral and company level. The DTI should offer a programme of matching funds to produce ongoing "strategic futures" studies in the sectors served by research and technology firms. "Foresight will be a waste of time unless people in factories improve behaviour to boost competitiveness. Research and technology firms are ideally suited to help with this."
Airto firms employ a total of around 7,000 and as a group boast a turnover of Pounds 350 million of which 85 per cent is from industry.