New research has revealed that while two-thirds (68%) of science and technology businesses across the UK agree that the country could achieve the Government’s ‘Superpower’ objective by 2030, 40% of UK business leaders surveyed* do not agree the Government is providing enough support for this sector to help them compete on a global scale. This comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged his ambition for the UK to be a ‘science and technology superpower’ and made it a key part of his agenda.
The research, commissioned by Pragmatic Semiconductor, a UK-based world leader in flexible electronics, also reveals that 38% of respondents thought that better government incentives to be based in the UK would encourage them to invest in manufacturing facilities in the country.
Funding and finance for the sector
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to make the UK a science and technology superpower, an ambition backed by George Freeman MP, Minister for Science, Research, and Innovation. However, British businesses fear that this commitment is yet to materialise into effective support, highlighting the need for better access to finance and funding in the sector as a key requirement.
The new research found that more than half (53%) of businesses thought the Government didn’t provide enough incentives for companies to keep their manufacturing operations and headquarters in the UK. Potential incentives could include: cutting business rates to compete with other markets; better government support for capital investments; and better government subsidies for operating costs.
In addition, more than two-thirds (67%) of respondents believe that the Government’s commitment of increasing R&D funding to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 isn’t ambitious enough to achieve the ‘Superpower’ aim by 2030.
Improving the regulatory framework
UK businesses also want better policies and regulations for the technology and science sectors. Nearly half (48%) of those surveyed thought that clearer policies were needed to drive innovation at scale in British technologies. More than a third (35%) highlighted the need to simplify the process of importing materials and exporting finished products to incentivise them to invest in manufacturing facilities in the country, while three in 10 (30%) referenced the need for better supply chain security.
One way in which policy could be used to incentivise UK innovation is providing a guarantee from public sector bodies to ‘buy British’ where possible. 45% of respondents believed a commitment was needed to offer UK businesses a fixed percentage of public procurement opportunities, giving growing businesses an opportunity to scale domestically.
Plugging the skills gap
The skills shortage is a key challenge for growing businesses. Seven in ten (70%) agree they have found it difficult to hire suitable skilled employees to expand their business and attract investment over the last 12 months. Respondents highlighted programmes such as partnerships with universities and T-level placements as effective ways for businesses to attract and retain talent with the right skillsets.
Starting from a solid foundation
Despite these challenges, the UK is still seen as a highly attractive destination to start and grow a science and technology business. Overall, a third (33%) of respondents believe that one of our greatest strengths is the UK being home to some of the top universities in the world. Furthermore, nearly a quarter (23%) noted the strength of the UK as a global hub for developing R&D into commercial applications and high-growth businesses.
“I’m not surprised to see businesses calling for more support from the Government to realise its ambition of becoming a science and technology superpower,” said Scott White, CEO of Pragmatic Semiconductor. “The UK needs to retain the value creation from its innovation and research. However, this is only feasible for UK businesses – particularly those who are keen to expand rapidly – if the right support is there to nurture growth and ensure it happens from a UK base rather than overseas. Capital and finance opportunities, alongside UK-focused procurement policies, are critical if we are to create a level playing field with places like the US, the EU and China.”
 Combining respondents who ‘somewhat’ and ‘strongly’ agree. Subsequent mentions of ‘agree’ in the release also refers to this
 Inverse proportion of respondents who said ‘somewhat’ and ‘strongly’ agree (including Neither agree nor disagree).