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Amanda Solloway: R&D roadmap points to a vibrant future

Image: Richard Townshend [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Government plan will help UK research deliver for the whole nation, says Amanda Solloway

Today marks the publication of our ambitious new roadmap for UK R&D—an important milestone in our journey towards becoming a more R&D-intensive nation. It is a document I am incredibly proud of, and one that I hope stimulates lots of discussion and debate in the months ahead.

The roadmap will support our efforts to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges, from achieving net-zero carbon emissions and developing new medicines, to strengthening national security and improving public services.

The bold new measures being put in place to meet those goals include increasing investment in ground-breaking research and cutting unnecessary bureaucracy, as well as creating a new Office for Talent, making it easier for top global science, research and innovation talent to come to the UK.

The roadmap is the product of a great deal of input from key stakeholders across the UK. Only a few short months ago, a small group of us were gathered in my office with Post-it notes and flipcharts—taking our first steps towards a shared vision and mission for UK R&D, working through the core themes that today’s roadmap explores.

Since that day, we have all felt the terrible impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The R&D community’s response to the crisis has been truly inspirational, but I know it has also brought uncertainty and worry to many. The pandemic has shown the importance of looking after our wellbeing—of having a positive and supportive work culture where people have the confidence to fulfil their potential.  

That has always been a passion of mine—and the truth is, we can do more to improve the culture of research. Through the roadmap, we will be developing a new strategy for people and culture in R&D—to help to tackle long-standing issues, to make research careers more rewarding and research environments into kinder, more vibrant and more diverse places to work.

Build back better

This renewed focus is not just on academia—the importance of business-led R&D must not be underplayed. Our innovative industries play a vital role in improving quality of life for all, from exciting new employment opportunities through to improved products, services and market opportunities.

We need to unlock the potential for innovation to help us recover swiftly from Covid-19. I want to hear ideas on how we can do this as we develop an ambitious new direction with the guidance of a new innovation expert group.

We must ensure we are making a difference to people’s lives right across the UK. I hail from Derby—an area with a proud industrial base and some real strengths across the region, but also with its share of local challenges. There are many such places around the UK, where R&D could play a much stronger role in helping to level up.

Governments have often shied away from this in the past. But with our commitment to increasing annual public R&D spend to £22 billion by 2024-25, we can now seize the moment. I’m looking forward to working with people, communities, organisations and local leaders across the UK to develop these plans further.

The pandemic has been a truly defining event of our lifetimes. But this is a moment to embrace change—whether that is to develop a supportive and diverse culture, to drive up innovation and levelling up, or to strengthen our institutions and develop our international ties. 

This is a moment to improve on what went before, and the R&D roadmap is the start of a big conversation on how we should do that. I am looking forward to working with you to do this.

Amanda Solloway is the minister for science, research and innovation, and MP for Derby North