Richard Jones

Science policy is ‘anti-regional’ - innovation professor tells Conservative conference

A University of Manchester innovation expert has told a fringe meeting at Conservative Party conference that there is a “mismatch” between public and private sector spending on research and development. 

Taking part in a panel discussionon how to grow 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 withWe’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 offWe’ve got regional inequalityCities 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 affluentAnd 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 Westwhere 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 countryIn a normal country, big cities drive the economyIn the UK, they don’tIf Manchester performed like Lyons or Munich, we’d be adding 40 billion or so to the UK economy.”