The UK life sciences sector employs 170,000 people with a turnover of £50 billion, but it is facing enormous challenges, which is why the Prime Minister launched an ambitious new life sciences strategy on Monday. That includes a £180 million catalyst fund to aid commercialisation of new discoveries. We have also improved the regime for clinical trials in the interests of patients and opened up the NHS to innovation.
I very much welcome the life sciences strategy published by the Government earlier this week. What plans does my right hon. Friend now have to support the development of geographic clusters that will foster collaboration between industry, the NHS and academia?
My hon. Friend has absolutely described what a cluster is; I congratulate her. We support them. They are important for innovation and growth. Indeed, in the proposals published today, we are talking about making it easier for groups of institutions to come together to bid for funding from research councils, and also our enlightened Treasury has agreed that in future there will not be VAT on cost-sharing arrangements in which groups of institutions come together to share services in the interests of efficiency.
The Minister will know that in life sciences and many other areas of innovation there are lots of small companies, often in partnership with universities. Will he comment on the fact that many of those partnerships tell me that with the demise of the regional development agencies they have no access to a large amount of money held in Europe, essentially for innovation? There are billions of pounds that they cannot access.
The catalyst fund that I referred to in my previous answer is aimed specifically at getting financial support to new start-ups, and will help finance them through the so-called “valley of death” before they can get commercial funding. At the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on Tuesday, I argued that European research funding should be more easily accessible for small and medium-sized enterprises. The best way to achieve that is by cutting bureaucracy and the complexity in the current arrangements for accessing European funding. That is what I urged on the Commission.