Not many countries excel in science and tech in the way the UK does, encompassing things like agritech and bioscience. But the benefits of this sector must reach everyone, writes George Freeman
Just a stone’s throw from the Whitehall office where I’m writing this, leaders from across the world are gathering in the Queen Elizabeth II centre, as we approach the halfway mark of the tenth London Tech Week.
They are celebrating what has been a truly extraordinary year in tech. A year when – from AI to quantum computing or cancer vaccines – we’ve begun to feel its impact on our everyday lives in earnest.
This story has London right at its heart. Imperial, UCL, and King’s hospitals make up an extraordinary cluster of some of the best biomedical science in the world. And just a little further East, we’ve got the Silicon Roundabout and next generation computing. It’s extraordinary to have so much expertise in such a small area.
And that’s not the end of the story; the Golden Triangle links our capital with world class telecoms, space and genomics research in the Oxford and Cambridge clusters, together forming a science and tech “supercluster” – the third largest in the world.
But amidst all the Westminster chatter, it’s all too easy to forget that UK science and technology excellence is far beyond the bounds of Oxford, Cambridge and London.
Over the last ten years we have grown world-class clusters in every corner of our country, where our scientists and entrepreneurs are spinning out research from our world-leading universities into start-ups and scale-ups across a range of high growth sectors.
In Wales, we have the world’s first and only dedicated compound semiconductor cluster, putting British expertise right at the heart of a supply chain that is rapidly becoming essential to almost every one of today’s technologies – and tomorrow’s, too.
In the West Midlands, we are building robots that will keep our advanced manufacturing sector competitive for decades. And in Glasgow we’re building more satellites than anywhere else outside California.
Innovative British businesses in these clusters are spurring UK-wide economic growth. They are driving transformational local regeneration and providing high-skilled, well-paid career opportunities for a new generation.
But for all that, they haven’t always got the investment they deserve. Because for far too long, investment – both public and private – has skewed towards the South East, making regional inequalities even worse.
This government recognises that this can’t continue. So we have committed to increasing domestic public investment in R&D outside the Greater South East by at least 40 per cent by 2030.
The Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology is taking on a leading role in support of that agenda, delivering on this government’s priority of growing the economy, by putting regional clusters of innovation right at the heart of our mission to grow the industries of tomorrow in the UK.
We are working on an interactive digital cluster map to showcase these clusters internationally, from marine tech in the Solent, Agritech in Norwich and Medtech in Leeds to hydrogen in Teesside, bioscience in Belfast and space ports in Sutherland and the Shetlands.
When it’s released in the coming months, this map won’t just enable our policymakers to better target support so that these clusters have the right infrastructure and skills to grow. It will also ensure investors have the information they need to bet on the best British business.
To say we are a “science and tech superpower” means nothing if ordinary people don’t feel the benefits of that superpower status. We want communities in every corner of our United Kingdom benefitting from the tech revolution. They should feel confident that the investments we’re making today mean better public services and a stronger economy tomorrow.