Gordon Brown’s surprise ‘giveaway’ will inevitably grab the headlines, but was there more to today’s budget than 2p in the pound off income tax? (Isn’t it odd, by the way, how politicians can make allowing us to keep more of our own money sound like an act of unparalleled generosity).

What was no surprise at all was to hear the chancellor praising to the heavens the role of innovation in the future of the UK economy.

It’s a familiar theme for Brown, and the extra investment in science funding is certainly welcome, if a little strange.

After all, it was only a couple of weeks ago that the UK’s research councils were told they would need to start tightening their belts because of a cash shortfall at the DTI.

It is also hard to quibble with the extension of R&D tax credits.

There was one area, however, in which Brown, whether as chancellor or prime minister, really could give innovation in the UK a big helping hand.

That area is government procurement. If you can manage to sit through an entire budget speech, there is no better opportunity to grasp the mind-boggling scale of the sums that are spent by government on our behalf.

Billions of pounds are tossed around to meet a pledge here and a pledge there, and when it comes to the big-spending departments – health, education, defence – the billions flow like water in a fast-moving stream.

A lot of this money is spent in areas where UK engineering and technology companies are at the leading edge of innovation.

Defence, security and medical devices are a few that spring immediately to mind. It seems both fair and good for the innovation economy that those UK businesses should have the chance to prove that some of those billions should come their way.

A formal requirement for Whitehall spending departments to support UK innovators where appropriate, and when they can make a genuine contribution, does not seem that controversial. Yet it remains as elusive as ever.

The US already has such a law, and a UK version is long overdue.

Those with keen ears will also have heard the chancellor mention new measures to encourage co-operation between universities and business. Well, The Engineer got there first. Our Technology & Innovation Awards do exactly that. Visit https://www.theengineer.co.uk/awards for full details.

Andrew Lee


The Engineer & The Engineer Online