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Innovation shouldn’t be a branch of science policy

The spending review has reinforced the misleading idea that innovation policy is all about tech-transfer and start-ups, says Paul Nightingale.

Chancellor George Osborne’s decision to protect the science budget in the spending review reflects the power of the science lobby and a cross-party consensus, established by David Sainsbury when he was Labour’s science minister, that science needs stability. But this consensus has stifled debate about the UK’s problems with innovation.

Received opinion is that the UK is good at research, but bad at commercialisation. This leads to science policy based on sustaining long-term funding for excellent research and strategically allocating resources to areas with economic or social potential. Innovation policy then aims to boost tech-transfer and entrepreneurial firms, chiefly by addressing their financial constraints.

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