The next leader of the Conservative Party should commit to ensuring the UK remains a world leader in research, development and innovation (RDI).
The current administration has provided welcome support to RDI, including a commitment to increase public research and development (R&D) spending to £22bn a year by 2026/27 and drive economy-wide R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP in 2027.
We now ask the Conservative leadership contenders to continue that work and pledge to ensure the UK remains globally competitive in RDI, pushing to invest 3% of GDP in R&D and deliver a strong, prosperous and healthy future for our economy and society.
This must include a strategic, long-term approach to funding, immigration and the tax system, and continued close collaboration with the international research community. When it comes to collaboration, our first priority must be association to the EU’s flagship research & innovation funding programme, Horizon Europe, and maintaining the fruitful networks with researchers across Europe built up over decades.
The evidence is clear: investment in RDI drives productivity and raises living standards, benefitting people and communities across the whole of the UK. From the great challenges of our time, including COVID-19, climate change, energy security and caring for an ageing society, to the creation of high-skilled jobs, new businesses, and the innovations that power our NHS – UK research and innovation has real-life impact.
It is vital that the next government sends a clear message to domestic and international researchers and innovators that the UK is open for business and ready to embrace the opportunities of a changing world. Globally, our competitors & partners such as Germany, Israel, South Korea and Japan already invest more than 3% of their GDP in R&D.
The next Prime Minister must set out a long-term plan for bolstering the UK’s RDI excellence. This should build on the Government’s existing funding targets, with the ultimate aim to boost overall R&D investment to 3% of GDP. But words and targets will not be enough. The UK needs a coherent long-term plan to build our position as the global hub for new world-leading technologies, to draw on our strengths across multiple disciplines, to attract talent from around the world and to ensure resilience in the face of future crises.
The UK already has considerable strengths in RDI, driven by the ambition and curiosity of talented people and world-class institutions across the nation. The next Prime Minister must not miss a beat in the effort to build on these strengths for the future success of UK research and innovation.
Researchers and innovators around the world are making decisions now about where they should work and invest to stay at the forefront of global RDI. Now is the time to reassert and deliver on plans to make the UK the place-to-be, maximising the benefits of RDI to the economy and to people’s lives.
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On Thursday 25 August, our President, Professor Dame Anne Johnson PMedSci, wrote to The Times:
INVESTING IN SCIENCE
Sir, Both leadership candidates for prime minister have vowed to secure Britain’s status as a “science and technology superpower” but details of their plans are limited (“£15bn Brexit science plan”, news, Aug 23). When it comes to health research, you reap what you sow. Every £1 invested in medical research returns 25p every year in health and wealth gains, for ever. Sustainable, long-term support for research and development attracts talented people and investors, creates highly skilled jobs and will enable us to rise to the health challenges we face as a society, from the health impacts of climate change to mental health.
Historic investments made it possible for UK R&D to play a crucial role in the rapid response to Covid-19. After the quick and effective provision of health benefits to the public, medical research needs more than a pat on the back: it needs a clear, long-term strategy backed by investment and with a robust framework for supporting international collaboration at its heart. It is essential that the next PM set out this plan as soon as they enter office, if our science is to remain among the best in the world.
Professor Dame Anne Johnson
President, Academy of Medical Sciences