Go back

Northern Ireland innovation strategy in the pipeline

Northern Ireland is to produce an innovation strategy and is already working on a draft, enterprise minister Arlene Foster has said.

Speaking on 12 June, Foster said the strategy would supplement the economic strategy that is also in the works and is scheduled for publication later in the year.

Her announcement came on the heels of a report from the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee, which said that the government must come up with a vision to improve its record for spending on innovation and R&D.

The committee says over the past five years, business expenditure on R&D in Northern Ireland has averaged just 0.69 per cent of its gross value added. This compares 1.23 per cent for the UK as a whole. Just 10 companies accounted for around 57 per cent of all business R&D investment in Northern Ireland in 2009.

The report, published on 11 June, follows an inquiry into developing Northern Ireland’s economy through innovation and R&D. It says one of the issues to be addressed includes the low levels of European research funding coming into Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland government should immediately start preparations for the Framework 7’s successor programme Horizon 2020, which would include an assessment Northern Ireland’s potential.

Lack of involvement in the UK government’s Small Business Research Initiative is another problem. The Department of Finance and Personnel should take on responsibility for promoting the SBRI across government departments and agencies.

For its own part, the committee says it will work with universities, venture capital companies and others to develop a strategy for boosting the level of venture capital available.

The committee also gives advice on structures to support R&D, including setting up a high-level steering group, including members from government, business and academia, to advise the government on R&D and innovation policy. In addition, a new structure is needed to “integrate and coordinate all innovation and R&D activity”. Such a body would be tasked with increasing government knowledge of innovation and R&D; developing programmes of practical support for business and academia; and promoting “a culture of innovation and R&D across government, business and academia”.

Another important thing for the executive to consider is the appointment of a chief scientific officer and a science steering committee, it adds.