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Sainsbury’s new ideology

If implemented – and that's a big if – the recommendations in the Sainsbury review would set Britain's research and innovation policy off in a significantly new direction, albeit with some tentative steps at first.

The document is talking a language that’s new to the British government, referring for example to a “National Innovation Ecology”. It raises the prospect of using some of the big levers government has – but currently doesn’t use – to promote innovation. These are things like market regulation, government procurement and the activity of all those non-techy government departments.

Conceptually, David Sainsbury seems to have bought into the more holistic, dynamic approach to innovation articulated at the European level by the former Finnish prime minister Esko Aho and at the University of Manchester by Luke Georghiou. But the recommendations are still nervous. There’s nothing, for example, with the ambition to match Aho’s EU plan for “Lead Markets” where all the lever’s at the disposal of ministers are used to stimulate a native hi-tech industry in an emerging sector.

The main policy tool for doing all this seems to be the Technology Strategy Board, to which Sainsbury wants to give a flood of new powers and influence. The issue is going to be whether the rest of government will wear it. David Hughes, who when he was at the DTI was the inspiration behind the TSB, is writing about this for us in next week’s issue of Research Fortnight.