Introducing the Government’s R&D Roadmap 2020

Following its budget promise to increase R&D spending to £22B by 2024/5 (and 2.4% of GDP by 2027) the UK Government launched its R&D Roadmap on 1st July, 2020. Light on detail, the roadmap, reaffirms the government’s longer-term spending commitments and sets out a list of development areas to realise its ambitions.

Business led innovation

The Government’s target that 2.4% GDP will be invested in R&D by 2017 assumes a significant part of that investment will be delivered through business led innovation. An Innovation Expert Group was established in August to shape innovation policy and prioritise actions which are likely to include unlocking finance for new innovative businesses, support for commercialisation through HEIF and an expectation that HEIs deliver on the principles set out in the knowledge exchange concordat . The roadmap states that Innovate UK (IUK) will ‘evolve further’ fuelling rumours that it could receive an even larger percentage of the science budget. ¾ of Teesside’s UKRI research funds come through IUK.

Levelling Up

Following autumn’s comprehensive spending review, the government will publish its UK R&D Place Strategy and set up a ministerial R&D Place Advisory Group to address long-term economic growth in the most disadvantaged areas of the UK through the levelling up agenda. Little has been revealed about the Government’s plans for a future place-based strategy, but Universities are expected to play a major role. NESTA’s recent report: The Missing £4 Billion; Making R&D Work for the whole UK (Forth and Jones, May, 2020) puts forward a number of recommendations on how R&D funds can support local growth and productivity.

(Post Brexit) International Collaboration

With participation in, or association with, Horizon Europe looking unlikely, the roadmap proposes the development of a ‘new agile offer’ to grow global collaboration that will support mobility of excellent researchers, develop partnerships with the world’s leading R&D-intensive nations and work with developing nations to tackle the UN’s sustainable development goals. However, to date no firm plans on replacement funding have been put forward. In 2019, the Adrian Smith Review Changes and Choices, outlined a number of proposals which may influence BEIS’ approach.

Research & Development Culture Strategy

Managing talent to attract, grow and retain outstanding researchers from more diverse backgrounds, is another commitment set out in the roadmap. This will involve developing a R&D Culture Strategy, reviewing the impact of COVID-19 on researchers, a new deal for PGRs, support for ECRs, investment in technicians, establishing an Office for Talent (to improve international mobility) and a ‘new offer’ linking research and innovation talent development to the levelling up agenda.

PMO Initiatives

A couple of initiatives led by the Prime Minister’s Office include government led ‘moonshots’ to address societal challenges – an idea which has emerged in recent years from Mariana Mazzucato at UCL and the creation of an £800M Advanced Research Programme Agency (ARPA) based on the US Defence Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA). It isn’t clear yet whether UK ARPA will be a virtual or physical research institute to back breakthrough technologies but it is expected to support high risk initiatives, tolerate high levels of failure and be staffed by professional programme/project managers. It is not clear how these PMO priorities differ from the UKRI societal challenges set out in the industrial strategy except that their governance outside of UKRI means their funding will not be tied to the Haldane principle (that decisions about research funding allocations are made by experts in the field).

Reducing Bureaucracy

Finally, the roadmap is delivering on its commitment to address bureaucracy for research funding decisions published here and includes moving to a two staged streamlined application process, the replacement of J-eS, replacing varied funder approaches to CVs and track record information by adopting the Royal Society’s Resume for Researchers, including all details in one call document, and embedding equality, diversity and inclusion best practice in application procedures.

This post was written by Steph Bales, Director of Research and Innovation Services