Chris Skidmore's speech for NCUB Chair’s Reception

Chris Skidmore's speech for NCUB Chair’s Reception

Transcript for Chris Skidmore’s speech for National Centre for Universities and Business Chair’s Reception, 8 January 2020

 

Chris Skidmore at NCUB Chairs ReceptionI would like to use this opportunity to reflect both upon the events of last year and the direction of the government going forwards into 2020.  

I think it wouldn’t be a surprise to many of you who have worked with me to understand the frustrations that were involved in trying to push forward Government policy at the same time as not having a majority – at the same time as trying to implement the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and to establish a new working relationship with the European Union.  

That extended particularly across the research community a number of issues which still remain unresolved, not least, the future association into Horizon Europe which remains my number one immediate priority for this month. I am extremely keen to make sure the Government makes that commitment as soon as possible but simply was unable to do so partly due to indecision and inability to be able to move forward into the next phase of that future relationship.  

We now have the deal of moving forward at pace within the Commons. The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is now nearly through its committee stage. It will be going to the Lords tomorrow. We will have passed the bill and we will have left the European Union on the 31st of January.  

For me that marks the start of a new chapter, not the end of a book and it’s up to us together to be able to write its text. Yes, we must begin that foundation by looking at our new relationship with our European research partnerships and I know how critical and important that is for all of you. It’s not just about the money, it is about those collaborations and ensuring we can continue those collaborations in the fullest possible sense. It means ensuring that we get the maximum possible association into Horizon Europe when it begins in January 2021.  

I also wanted to discuss the Government’s manifesto commitments because I think for the first time this is the best time in parliament, potentially in decades, to be your science and research and universities minister. We mentioned David Willetts earlier on. I stay in regular contact with David, talking about his experiences under the coalition government. Then he was lucky to get a flat cash R&D settlement for the science budget in the years of austerity. Now we have a once in a generation opportunity to see the public level of R&D double over five years. Potentially from £9bn to £18bn. We have to consider also the wider R&D spend across government and indeed make sure we can replicate the European R&D spend. Those are discussions I will continue to have as we approach the Budget and the spending settlement on the 11th of March. This is not a three-year spending settlement. This is a five-year spending settlement, so the consequences are vast for research and for science. If we can achieve a five year long term funding settlement for science and research. That is my mission that I want to work on with all of you.  

But it isn’t just about the money. I view the doubling of the public R&D spend very much as the key to the door that will open up a treasure trove of how we can unlock the private R&D spend that we need to be able to achieve 2.4%. We know by doubling to £18bn we will meet the public commitment but we now need to see an increase to roughly £54bn spending on R&D by private sources to achieve our goals on 2.4% This entails a massive uplift in the private R&D spend that will be needed for the future – will need your help to be able to achieve that.  

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has talked about levelling up funding. Yes, we will continue to focus on excellence. Yes, we want to ensure that the existing research relationships are maintained, are continued to be funded. But at the same time that doesn’t preclude looking at where we need to make future investments to be able to enable excellence for the future. We have a number of funds that have been established as part of our Industrial Strategy. The Strength in Places Fund is UKRI’s first fund that takes a place based approach, the Connecting Capabilities Fund that Research England have worked so well on, and UKRPIF pointing the direction how we can ensure that funding is placed in new areas but at the same time at every stage private funding is collocated with it.  

As science and research minister, I am using January to get around the country. I will be in Leeds and Sheffield next Thursday and Friday and up to Manchester, York, Durham, Newcastle, Leicester through the rest of the month. I will be looking at examples of excellence which we should be able to replicate - what works, what doesn’t work. What can we look at maximising our funding to be able to ensure that all areas of the country can benefit from it. And I want to reassure you that this isn’t a false divide between translational and applied research and academic excellent research and progress and discovery lead research. We need both together.  

Innovation ecosystems are created by both universities and institutions bonding together in a colocated space with excellent private companies. We must ensure that they are never placed at loggerheads with one another. I want to ensure that when we look at our research funding – whether its QR, whether it’s HEIF – we are able to adapt these research funding opportunities to be able to maximise the opportunities, to empower universities to work together with companies in the future. We have seen early pilots with the University Enterprise Zones, I want to go much further than that as we progress.

 

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