Science and tech can improve our lives: Labour will unleash British innovation

Chi Onwurah
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

As an engineer, as a Geordie, as a Brit and as the shadow minister for science, I am incredibly proud of the UK’s history of science and innovation. It is a history centuries in the making, to which the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is yet another world-beating addition. Innovation is key to our physical and economic health, key to our growth, key to our place on the world stage. Britain has the potential to be a scientific superpower – if only we had a government with the ambition to make that a reality.

Labour believes that the UK is not average. We believe our history and our future require us to be a leading science nation, and that is why we have committed to targeting 3% of GDP on R&D. Instead, this government’s record on R&D is one of empty rhetoric and broken promises, cutting dementia funding when they promised to double it, pulling funding mid project and reneging on their promise to double R&D science spend by 2024/25.

It’s no wonder there is chaos where there could be opportunity when we are on our fifth science minister in 27 months. We have had the ‘Innovation Strategy’, an ‘R&D roadmap’, a ‘science plan’, an ‘Office for Science and Technology Strategy,’ ‘grand challenges’, catapults, innovation accelerators, industrial strategies, ‘sector deals’, ARIA and two re-organisations of UKRI, as well as multiple broken promises. We need consistency and long-term planning to best support innovation and to attract private investment.

Just as innovation is key to national prosperity, it is vital to building strong and self-sufficient regional economies. STEM sectors provide high-skilled and high wage jobs which can support local economies and boost growth. It is the Golden Triangle of London, Cambridge and Oxford that continues to attract the lion’s share of research funding. In 2019, more than £20bn, over half the UK total, was invested in the South East, East of England and London.

By comparison, only £0.7bn of R&D went to the North East – and that’s despite having leading, research intensive, Universities like Newcastle and Durham. Cambridge, with a population of 285,000, has as many private R&D jobs as the whole of the North. Labour wants to ensure the benefits of science are truly national in scope, providing high-skill, high-wage jobs in every corner of the country.

Diversity matters. It is not a box-ticking exercise. It is an economic imperative. Without it, innovation is stifled, and valuable talent is excluded from the workforce. This has become even more important throughout the pandemic, which has seen technology become an even bigger part of our everyday lives.

Labour believes science and technology can improve our lives and enable a more equal, more productive and more sustainable skills-based economy. Science is at the heart of many of our biggest challenges as a nation, such as climate change and an ageing population. But people need to be protected and empowered to take control of technology, rather than having it imposed on them. And that requires a government determined to support science across our country, to build an innovation nation that benefits everyone.

Our country is a powerhouse of scientific talent – and it’s time we realised our true potential. Only Labour can offer the purpose, power, resources and leadership necessary to unleash British innovation.

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