UK government must do more for science, says new research

Biggest challenges cited as a lack of finance for R&D and a lack of finance for investment

The UK’s science-based economy needs greater support from the government, according to new research undertaken by Lab Innovations, the UK’s event dedicated to the laboratory industries. Sixty-two per cent of directors and senior decision makers from more than 112 scientific UK organisations say the UK government is not doing enough to support them.

The list of government actions the companies call for include: greater investment to support key research projects, helping attract overseas investment in R&D, providing tax incentives for research, reducing taxes on manufacturing, science and technology companies and to allow more genuine foreign workers and students into the UK.

The 112 companies who participated in the survey cover the broad spectrum of science business sectors from biotech businesses, pharmaceutical companies, life science and environmental organisations through to research institutions plus healthcare, food, drink, chemical and petrochemical companies with extensive R&D teams.

The research suggests these science-based organisations are a crucial part of the UK economy. For instance, 38% of those taking part employ more than 100 people, with 17 companies employing more than 500. The vast majority, (86%) are exporters, with on average 35% of sales going to overseas markets. While two thirds of companies are focused on selling into the EU and over a third (36%) to North America, many are pushing into vital emerging markets such as China (31%), India (21%) and Africa (16%).

At least one in five say too much red tape and regulation is holding them back, while a similar number say growth is being inhibited by the lack of a skilled workforce

According to the research, recent developments such as the weakness of sterling, have helped 16% to export more, but many are facing some major barriers that are inhibiting their success. The biggest challenge is a lack of finance for R&D, which is cited by 35%; a lack of finance for investment is also a major barrier afflicting 27%. At least one in five (23%) say too much red tape and regulation is holding them back, while a similar number (22%) say growth is being inhibited by the lack of a skilled workforce.

While the UK government has introduced initiatives to free up finance and talks about the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), only 25% of the companies questioned believe it is genuine in its desire to rebalance the economy away from finance and services, and towards more STEM-based activity. Almost a third (31%) are unsure how serious the government is with regards to this policy, and the largest group (44%) do not believe this is a genuine objective at all.

The companies studied face plenty of market opportunity: barely 6% say a lack of overseas demand is an issue, and few find it difficult to target overseas markets. But with almost one in five (19%) worried about financing even day-to-day activities, there is clearly an argument that greater finance is required if these important players in the UK economy are to reach their potential.

‘The UK has a tremendous scientific reputation, and the companies participating in the survey are thriving and extremely optimistic,’ said Jake Morrison, Lab Innovations event manager, ‘Their mindset is on growth, both within the UK and beyond.

‘However there is clearly a lot of untapped potential within these companies that they want to unlock. They are also highly dependent on R&D and future growth will only come from both research and expansion, which requires investment.’

However there is clearly a lot of untapped potential within these companies that they want to unlock

These will be some of the topics debated on and around the show floor at this year’s Lab Innovations 2013 to be held at the NEC, Birmingham on 6-7 November. New for 2013, Lab Innovations will feature a dynamic panel debate hosted by The Royal Society of Chemistry giving industry experts and attendees to the show the opportunity to discuss the critical issues affecting the sector.

Lab Innovations 2013, organised by easyFairs, will host more than 100 exhibitors and offer a conference programme featuring renowned keynote speakers and sessions organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry, together with practical workshops delivered by Campden BRI.

Free registration for the show is now open via www.easyFairs.com/Labinnovations.

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