Paul Drayson on Labour's science & innovation policy

3 min read

Paul DraysonMinister for science and innovation

Securing the recovery and delivering strong economic growth is Labour’s number one priority. Engineering will be crucial to this.

I don’t say this as someone who has discovered the importance of the subject due to the job I now hold. I discovered this before I even entertained the idea of going into politics. My first degree in engineering and my doctorate in robotics gave me the grounding and confidence to become an entrepreneur. It is this knowledge which frames my thinking now to strengthen engineering here in the UK.

Manufacturing is central to how we earn our living today and the country’s future prosperity. There is sometimes a misconception that the UK no longer makes things. It’s not true. We are the sixth largest manufacturing nation in the world. Besides the US, our aerospace industry is the most commercially successful in the world, with a turnover of around £20 billion. We undertake pioneering engineering in next-generation industries, such as plastic electronics and nanotech. And we currently outperform every other country in attracting foreign direct investment for manufacturing.

UK engineering is anything but an historical footnote, and exporting high-quality products to the rest of the world remains as important as ever. Innovative solutions will enable the UK to solve the challenges we know we will face as a nation.

There are many opportunities. Synthetic biology will revolutionise the treatment of disease. Composite materials will enable us to build lighter aircraft that use less fuel. Satellites designed and manufactured in the UK will deliver high-speed broadband to people across Europe. Meeting climate change targets will demand the construction of low carbon buildings. Wind turbines will require the production of durable and ultra efficient gear boxes. And as millions of low carbon cars join the world’s roads over the next twenty years we must have the ambition to build them here.

There’s no doubt that the UK stands to gain from moving the focus of our manufacturing base towards technology-driven, high value-added operations. But we must also coordinate the efforts of that base to meet the vast challenges of a low-carbon world.

For Labour, Government has a clear role to play. To lock in the recovery, we need an active industrial strategy that invests in the UK’s fundamental strengths.

We are investing smartly in key sectors. Almost a billion pounds is being targeted at key industrial projects spanning a range of industries: aerospace, nuclear advanced manufacturing, wave and tidal energy, industrial biotechnology, a new national centre for composites and next generation off shore wind blade development. Engineering is intrinsic to every one of these sectors.

That’s the thinking behind the creation of the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), through which central and local government are working with automotive, power generators, infrastructure companies and others to address the nexus of issues around the electrification of personal transport. OLEV is coordinating over £400 million in direct government support for, amongst other things, the world’s largest electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid car demonstrator competition.

It’s also why we have created the UK Space Agency to better coordinate our existing space activities. Alongside the agency a new International Space Innovation Centre will boost our world leading satellites industry.

We recognise that incentivising or facilitating low carbon or other technologies through regulation, taxation or other action will fundamentally shape the nature of consumer and business demand in the economy.

It is this approach which informs the Patent Box: from 2013 a reduced 10-per-cent corporation tax on income from patents will spur innovative firms to locate their intellectual property and the manufacture of advanced patented products in this country.

The UK Innovation Investment Fund, meanwhile, will back the next generation of technology-based businesses that are underpinned by excellent science. We know that access to credit is critical in getting a business off the ground. £325 million of venture capital will soon be channelled through to help entrepreneurs build high-growth businesses and seize a share of the market opportunities in the emerging sectors we know that we will need to be strong in.

The announcement in the Budget to create a £35 million University Enterprise Capital Fund will create the structure to provide further incentives for our universities to commercialise their world leading research.

Until the recovery is secured we will not take risks with the economy. To pull away support as the Tories propose would weaken demand at a critical stage.

The downturn has demonstrated that to be pro-business and pro-innovation cannot involve Government standing aside completely. The Tories reject any role for government in equipping our firms to compete in a global economy.

The forthcoming general election will be fought on which Party has the best plan to secure recovery and deliver strong economic growth. The Labour Party is laying the foundations now to do precisely that. We will build a future based on growth and jobs - not a decade of austerity. We should be positive and go for growth.


Lord Drayson of Kensington

  • Minister for Science and Innovation
  • 1982 Took a BSc in production engineering at Aston, sponsored by BL Cars at Longbridge
  • 1985 PhD in robotics
  • 1986 - 1991 Managing Director of Lambourn Food Company
  • 1993 Co-founded Powderject Pharmaceuticals
  • 2001 - 2002  Chairman of the BioIndustry Association
  • 2005  Minister for defence procurement
  • 2007 Minister for defence equipment and support and Minister of State for Business and Regulatory Reform
  • November 2007 Indulging a life-time hobby, left government to compete in American Le Mans series
  • October 2008  Returned as minister of state for science and innovation taking a seat in the cabinet.