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Richard Jones talks innovation in wake of Cummings’ citation

Conservatives have seen ‘path of righteousness’ says man behind innovation paper of the moment

The physicist championed by Dominic Cummings for his research on innovation has said that although his work was not produced with the Conservatives in mind, he is pleased that the party has seen “the path of righteousness”.

Richard Jones, a professor of physics at the University of Sheffield, published his paper ‘Resurgence of the Regions: rebuilding innovation capacity across the whole UK’ in May. In a blog published on 27 November this work was praised by Cummings, adviser to Conservative leader Boris Johnson, for its “many ideas about long-term productivity, science, technology, [and] how to help regions outside the south-east”.

The comments by Cummings have led to speculation that Jones’ ideas will be central to government science and innovation policy should the Conservative Party come to power after next week’s general election.

Jones told Research Professional News that while he would not want to be seen as the brains behind Tory policy, he was pleased that his work had reached the desk of the prime minister.

“It was not particularly written with the Conservative Party in mind, and I think there are several aspects of it which don’t look continuous with what Conservative Party policy has been in the past,” he said. “But I’m always pleased when people see the path of righteousness, as it were.”

Jones says he hopes all the parties will look at his paper, which explores how research, innovation and skills can be distributed more fairly in the UK. To do this, he believes there should be less of a focus on the research that takes place in traditional universities, and more on the development of translational research centres. 

He points to the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Rotherham and the University of Manchester’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre as successful examples.

“That kind of translational research is important, and I think that’s probably the first type of institution that you’d want to build new examples of, outside the Golden Triangle,” he said. 

Elsewhere this week, the Confederation of British Industry has also called on the next government to focus attention on research outside of the traditional powerhouse nexus of Cambridge-Oxford-London.

Asked about the Conservatives’ pledge to establish a funder for “high-risk, high-payoff research”, modelled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the United States, Jones said any such plans should be treated with caution. “I think you have a British Darpa you’d have to say OK, what’s it for? What’s the goal by which you judge its success?” he said.

A full interview with Jones will be published in tomorrow morning’s 8am Playbook email, available to subscribers to our HE service.