An expert in innovation from the University of Manchester addressed a peripheral meeting at the Conservative Party conference, highlighting a discrepancy in research and development investment between the public and private sectors.
Taking part in a panel discussion on how to grow a dynamic and competitive economy through innovation, Professor Richard Jones, Vice President for Regional Innovation and Civic Engagement, argued that science “is a great strength of the UK, it is one of the things we do well.”
But he warned: “We have to face facts, we’re not yet delivering, there are still things we have problems with. We’ve got a productivity slowdown which basically underlies everything which is wrong with the economy.
“Productivity stopped growing in 2005, growth still hasn’t recovered. If we had continued on that trend, we would be about 25% better off. We’ve got regional inequality. Cities like Manchester are not driving the UK economy in the way that they should.”
Professor Jones said he believed that national science policy has been run “as an anti-regional policy.”
He continued: “Science spending has been concentrated on those parts of the country which already are the most affluent. And there’s a mismatch between where the private sector spends money on R&D and where the public sector spends it.
“We’ve got very large amounts of public money spent in London, but not so much private sector R&D. We’ve got places like the Midlands and places like the North West where the private sector is actually spending a lot of money on R&D but we’re not following that up with public sector money.”
Professor Jones told the gathering, organised by The University of Manchester’s policy engagement unit Policy@Manchester in partnership with Total Politics, that action was needed “to use innovation to build up local economies” in places like Greater Manchester and the West Midlands “which aren’t performing as well as they could.”
He said that Greater Manchester has “great self-confidence, it’s got a fantastic, burgeoning AI digital sector, it has very strong life-sciences, it’s got material science – that’s growing.”
But he added: “Greater Manchester still underperforms the UK economy. That’s extraordinary by the standards of any normal country. In a normal country, big cities drive the economy. In the UK, they don’t. If Manchester performed like Lyons or Munich, we’d be adding £40 billion or so to the UK economy.”