Supplementary submission from Semta
IUSS COMMITTEE INQUIRY "PUTTING SCIENCE
AND ENGINEERING AT THE HEART OF GOVERNMENT POLICY"
Just as important as choosing which areas of
science and innovation should attract funding is the balance of
investment between research and bringing innovation to the market.
To narrow the scope of investment in science and
research brings all the potential increased risks and benefits
of any such investment decisionthrough increased focus,
the organisation/nation is exposed to more risk but greater potential
Semta is of the view that, while Lord Drayson's
comment is most definitely worthy of debate and public consultation,
perhaps the greater debate should be around how investment is
used to bring science and innovation to commercial/social advantage.
Before lines are drawn around specific "subject" areas
for investment, there would be much value in looking at the balance
of investment in research compared to investment in bringing products
and services to the market.
We believe that there is significant scope to increase
the UK's exploitation of its science and innovation. Semta's work
with science and engineering companies on initiatives such as
the Sector Skills Agreements has highlighted the potential which
companies believe is still to be harnessed from improving New
Product and Process Development and Implementation (NPPDI). This
was a key area identified throughout Semta's companies, from automotive
to bioscience companies.
Science, innovation and research are international
markets, and there is certainly value in the argument that countries
attract world class talent to particular disciplines if they are
known as the world leader in such subjects.
However, as a result of this international market,
new discoveries and breakthroughs are often clearly identified
as international undertakings, with the diverse nationalities
of the individuals involved recognised. This reflects some of
the cachet back to their original nation. Therefore, some of the
benefits which might accrue to a country for being the "host"
of such innovation are dispersed to all the nationalities involved.
By definition, innovation is new and often untriedand
therefore competitive advantage has not yet been established.
If investment only flows to areas where the UK has "clear
competitive advantage", establishing that advantage will
be difficult where technology, products and processes are new
and "innovative by this description.
Narrowing the scope of investment for any venture
does present risks. If the UK were to focus on particular areas,
effectively reducing the diversity of its science and innovation
"portfolio, it is then exposed to a higher risk of a single
external factor having a large impact. For example, investing
in development of a particular technology, which is then quickly
superseded by another country's innovation.
Also, science and innovation does not fall into
neat "boxes" in terms of sub-sectors or disciplines.
It may be difficult to find discrete "areas" as suggested
by Lord Drayson, with specific scopes and limits, beyond which
investment will not go.