The Conservative Party conference starts on 2nd October. Before then, Prime Minister Truss will want to put new Ministers in place and develop an exciting agenda to tackle inflation, mitigate climate change, protect public health, reinforce national security, tidy up Brexit, address economic disparities, promote international trade, contain public spending, and more. Phew!
It will be tempting to kick some issues down the road by announcing plans for new strategies or policy reviews. That allows Ministers to focus on the most urgent priorities while creating the appearance of action.
Government bookshelves already groan under the weight of R&D strategies and reviews. We don’t need more of them. In any case, does the Government really want to create lots of new work for civil servants while it tries to reduce their numbers? Recent scrutiny and transparent policy processes have served us well: we already have an extraordinarily strong research base and high performing knowledge exchange between universities and businesses.
Research and knowledge exchange in the UK are not perfect. But the huge impact of research and innovation in this country belies their modest scale by international comparison. The UK’s high performing academic community, the breadth of university/business collaboration, the relatively wide geographic distribution of research and innovation institutions and their ability to adapt to fresh challenges are all great assets.
That is just as well because we need research and innovation like never before. Most – if not all – of the challenges on the PM’s desk will require a strong research and innovation system one way or another.
Of course, the Prime Minister will want to make wise decisions based on the best available evidence. For R&D, that means delivering existing public spending commitments and following recommendations from existing policy reviews rather than going back to the drawing board. Rather than re-visiting last year’s spending review settlement or making new changes to the administrative structures, the Government could make the most of what’s there already, make sure it is well funded and let it loose on the challenges and opportunities facing the country.
What if each new Minister asked their officials “how can university – business collaboration support our plans?” Just imagine the energy that could be released if more people in more parts of Government asked that question and took full advantage of the answers.