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Government Cautious on UK Tech Innovation

Science minister David Willets has backed science and technology innovation to play a key part in "rebalancing the economy", but failed to promise any further government investment until the autumn spending review.

In a speech to the Royal Institution, Willets was keen to distance the coalition government from the last administration, which, he said, had left no long-term spending plan, only a commitment to save £600m from the Higher Education, Science and Research budgets by 2012-13, "without specifying where these savings came from".

"I recognise that countries like the US, Canada and France have reacted to recession by spending more on science. But their public finances are in much better shape than ours," he said.

"These are austere times for us all. But this government wants science to emerge from this period to be strong, sustainable and effective."

Willets stressed the interdependency of science and technology but argued that rather than try to innovate in this country, it may make more economic sense to react to scientific breakthroughs "wherever they may arise, and to capitalise on those breakthroughs via research programmes and business initiatives of our own".

"Some 95 per cent of scientific research is conducted outside the UK. We need to be able to apply it here - and, in advanced scientific fields, it is often necessary to conduct leading-edge research in order to understand, assimilate and exploit the leading-edge research of others," he added.

"It is this absorptive capacity which is crucial."

Willets gave his support to government backed "shared facilities" for R& D, better public procurement and even "public competitions for new technologies".

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