Mandelson Adds Government Backing For Innovation Centres

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Business Secretary Lord Mandelson has announced Government support for the development of a network of technology and innovation centres

In an effort to “deliver the industries and jobs of the future,” the Government has backed the development of a network of technology and innovation centres.

The news comes just one day after the Chancellor Alistair Darling delivered an IT-lite budget, that revealed a number of initiatives aimed at driving investments in the green energy sector as well as assisting small to medium businesses.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson gave the Government’s backing to the proposal as he accepted the recommendations of a report by technology entrepreneur Hermann Hauser – founder of the UK IT icon of the 1980s, Acorn – which Mandelson commissioned to see how the UK could learn from other countries’ innovation networks.

Hauser wrote the following in his report; “The UK currently has a strategic gap in its approach to investing in Technology and Innovation Centres which can play a key role in supporting the development of new technologies in areas where the following conditions prevail:”

  • the UK has truly world-leading research and business capability and capacity to make use of increased investment;
  • the potential global markets are predicted to be worth billions of pounds per annum;
  • the UK has the ability to capture a significant volume of high value activity; and
  • Technology and Innovation Centres can enable the UK to attract and anchor the knowledge intensive activities of globally mobile companies.

“In a resource constrained environment, difficult choices must be made to ensure sufficient support is provided to a small number of elite national Technology and Innovation Centres in technology priority areas,” he wrote. “Like many highly successful Centres abroad, the UK can use this prioritisation to capitalise on national strengths.”

What’s the plan, Mandy?

Essentially, these elite group of centres “will help commercialise the output of the UK’s world leading research and will drive economic growth in potential high growth sectors that will emerge from commercialising technologies such as stem cells and regenerative medicine; future internet technologies; plastic electronics; software and technologies addressing renewable energy and climate change; satellite communications; fuel cells; advanced manufacturing; and composite materials. Commercialising these technologies could enable the UK to capture a significant proportion of global markets potentially worth billions of pounds.”

Lord Mandelson said the report recognised the UK was strong in many technology areas and the centres to be developed would help exploit that commercially. The idea is that the centres would take these new discoveries from the research part and help them cross over to full  commercialisation, by helping develop the concepts to a point where the private sector would be able to commercialise it.

“Too often in this country we have been brilliant at research and let others walk away with the commercial benefits of development,” said Lord Mandelson. “If we are to develop new industrial capabilities in Britain, we have to get more D out of our R&D.

“Centres can play a vital role in bridging the gap between research and the market, strengthening our national capabilities in innovation,” he added. ““I am now determined that the UK builds a capability for the long term, through a more strategic and sustained approach to investing in these centres. Hauser is right that these centres need long term, predictable funding and I am committed to making that happen. I want to understand the UK’s strengths, weaknesses and where there are gaps we need to invest in.”

Lord Mandleson said he is now tasking the Technology Strategy Board to work with industry, stakeholders, and wider government on how to implement the recommendations in the Hauser review and to report back on the process, priority areas, scale of investment required and governance structure.

However all this is a relatively moot point, considering that the UK is facing a general election shortly, and the Conservative Party is likely to have its own ideas on the matter.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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