Committees in the Lords do not seem the obvious place to change the innovation climate. But evidence being heard this month should send some clear messages to the Government about what needs to be changed and why. At issue is how industrial policies and funding programmes affect British industry’s ability to innovate.
Much has been made over the past 20 years of the could-do-better position of British manufacturing. We are good at ideas – says all the received wisdom – but our ability to turn ideas into marketable products is less well developed.
One of the worries in the engineering industry is a lack of co-ordination of what is funded and why.
A vibrant, innovative small business sector is as important as clever research and development work done by the larger companies. But small companies are often so daunted by the plethora of grant schemes on offer that they shun the opportunity to win innovation funding.
The Engineering Council’s evidence to the Lords’ Science and Technology committee last week drew attention to the problems of `trickle down’ funding, by which many organisations each get a small amount of funds. Its worries are that the limited R&D grants are spread too thinly. There is too much emphasis on fair shares for all, rather than a concerted effort to fund product development with real potential. At the heart of the problem is the lack of big ideas and bold moves. The Engineering Council suggests some: fewer but larger grants; a national innovation prize; and funding for supply chain innovations.
The committee last considered the innovation issue five years ago – now it hopes to come up with a report before the election. Its message must pass on the clear worries of industry and force the Government to act.