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UK Research and Development

Volume 698: debated on Tuesday 6 July 2021

The Prime Minister has reasserted our commitment to restoring the UK as a science superpower and to increasing Government investment in R&D to £22 billion. We continue to make progress on the R&D road map and are planning to publish the R&D people and culture strategy alongside the innovation strategy in the coming weeks.

The life sciences ecosystem is incredibly interdependent and clinical trials are a key part of it. Will my hon. Friend join me in meeting key stakeholders to discuss how we can maintain our position as a world leader?

Our ambition for clinical research is for a world-leading clinical research environment that capitalises on innovation, is resilient in the face of future healthcare challenges and improves the life of patients UK-wide. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that ambition.

At North East Technology Park in Sedgefield, we have a hub of innovation-led businesses from space to defence, including companies such as Filtronic and Kromek, which are already established; many smaller ones such as Evince and PragmatIC, which are redefining the semiconductor space; and the North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, which is operated by Business Durham. Does the Minister agree that places such as NETPark, with embryonic ecosystems already in place, can be the foundation stones of building back better and levelling up, and will she come and see for herself this amazing asset of the north-east?

NETPark is an excellent example of how science parks bring together talented communities to turn ideas into global successes. As home to the two of the UK’s Catapult centres, NETPark is playing a vital role in helping us to build back better across the United Kingdom. I would be delighted to visit not just NETPark but the wider north-east, to see how the region is capitalising on its innovation and technology strengths in order to support its local economy and communities. I know that my hon. Friend enjoyed his visit there so much that he went back week after week.

On Friday I visited Newcastle University’s dementia research centre and spoke to the wonderful scientists striving to cure this terrible affliction. But I also heard of the desperate conditions that early career researchers face, with Government funding commitments abandoned; grants ending as covid devastates medical research charities excluded from Government support; institutes closed as the Government’s international development funding is slashed; and post-docs eking out funding from project to project with no job security, working two jobs at once or working for free, and unable to apply for funding in their own name—and the most disadvantaged are hardest hit. How can the Minister say that she is supporting science when she is throwing the next generation of scientists to the wolves?

I always appreciate the hon. Member’s candid questions. She will know that we have been working on the people and culture strategy, which very much takes into account early career research, career progression and all the important things that we need to consider to ensure that our R&D system is really allowed to thrive and flourish. In May we announced funding of £15 million from BEIS, together with a £5 million fund from the Department of Health and Social Care, to support early career researchers, supported by charities, helping to protect the pipeline of research superstars who will have a fantastic impact in improving patients’ lives in future.