Government to reassess tech strategy

Business secretary Peter Mandelson has said the government plans to look at a number of measures in an effort to revamp its technology strategy
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The government has announced a review of its strategy for promoting UK technology and innovation.

Business secretary Peter Mandelson said in a statement on Monday that the government would seek to remove barriers to enable Britain to remain competitive in an economic upturn.

"To succeed in this hi-tech, low-carbon economy of the future, to drive growth and to secure more high-value jobs in the UK, we need to act," said Lord Mandelson. "It's not about picking winners or ignoring market signals but removing barriers which hold business back."

The strategy announced by the government will include a review of whether further long-term government capital investment will be made available to innovative small and medium-sized companies.

The government already provides venture capital as part of the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme. The scheme is designed for companies seeking between £250,000 and £2m, and which may not have the right risk profile to attract other forms of investment.

"In the weeks ahead we will launch a review to consider whether and in what form further intervention could help increase the supply of long-term growth capital to small and medium-sized businesses," said the government in a report entitled New Industry, New Jobs on Monday.

The review will consider whether to set up a public-private partnership that will use private-sector capital to plug gaps in public- and private-sector risk-capital provision.

Research and development funding will also be reformed. Despite tax credits to the tune of £3bn for R&D since 2000, science and technology research has not yielded sufficient numbers of products to market, said the government. From April, all applications for academic funding for technology will have to assess the economic impact of research.

The government added that neither the public nor private sectors were investing as much of a percentage of gross domestic product in R&D as countries including Sweden, Finland, the US or Germany.

The government will work with research funding bodies to "drive up the economic impact" of R&D efforts, said the report. The Department for Business, Enterprise, and Regulatory Reform (Berr) already provides up to £10,000 of "innovation vouchers" for hi-tech small businesses to fund R&D. In addition, the government said it would continue to support the work of the Technology Strategy Board, set up in 2004 as a forum between business, government and other technology stakeholders.

Educational needs could also be addressed. The government announced it will establish an organisation called the Skills Funding Agency to help educational and training institutions provide skills "of strategic importance to the economy".

The government also repeated that the UK's technology infrastructure needs to be improved. The Digital Britain report, being undertaken by Lord Carter and due in the summer, will "establish the framework for a fundamental transformation of our broadband infrastructure", said the Berr report.

The report was published on the same day as a report by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta), which said the UK could lose out by up to £44bn per year if the government fails to invest in healthcare, green technology and digital media.

"Previous industrial interventions in the 1960s and 1970s ignored demand and focused on unsuccessful attempts to pick winning firms rather than new growth areas," said Nesta chief executive Jonathan Kestenbaum in a statement. "The government must invest in areas where future demand will drive next-generation technologies".

Nesta's Attacking the Recession report urged the government to use the upcoming budget as "an opportunity to reshape the economy by investing in high-growth sectors".

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