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Science and Innovation: Levelling Up

Volume 706: debated on Tuesday 11 January 2022

3. What steps he is taking to harness science and innovation for the purposes of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. (904924)

UK leadership in science, technology and innovation is already driving huge investment in new sectors, companies and clusters throughout the UK, from the Newquay spaceport to the Shetlands, and from Northern Ireland to Teesside, Aberdeen and other life science clusters around the country. However, we intend to go further, and following our innovation nation strategy, we are committed to supporting those clusters. I am engaged in talks with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and details will be provided in the forthcoming levelling up White Paper.

My hon. Friend may know that a leading example of science and innovation as a key tool in achieving levelling up is the Lincoln Science and Innovation Park in my city constituency of Lincoln, which has been headed by the excellent Tom Blount for a number of years. The aptly named Boole Technology Centre, of calculus infamy, has been a great success to date and continues to expand even further, recently attracting notable international tenants and job providers. What financial support can our Government offer, so that organisations such as the Lincoln Science and Innovation Park can continue to grow and nurture companies such as KryptoKloud, and similar new ones can be created?

I congratulate my hon. Friend, who has been a tireless advocate for the Lincoln cluster. He asked about funding. In the comprehensive spending review, we set out the biggest increase in investment in science and innovation for a generation. Specifically, 34 projects in the cluster are funded by UK Research and Innovation. I look forward to discussing this with my hon. Friend, who has made a powerful pitch for that centre to be recognised as a cluster, and I look forward to visiting it.

The University of Sheffield’s new gene therapy innovation and manufacturing centre shows that South Yorkshire can lead the world when it comes to research, but nearly half of all R&D spending goes into the golden triangle. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the north gets its fair share?

That was a great question. The hon. Gentleman is right. In fact, there are several clusters in the Yorkshire area, and in a previous career I myself worked in the Sheffield university cluster, which is very powerful.

Our strategy is that if we wish to be both a global science superpower to attract investment internationally and an innovation nation, we will not achieve that by moving the golden triangle north. What we must do is increase spending in the north, which we are already doing, and grow the supply chains in, for instance, advanced manufacturing. We are not just an invention economy; we are also a manufacturing and innovation economy, and Yorkshire, and Sheffield specifically, have a big part to play in that.

That truly iconic British-built scientific research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough—built by Cammell Laird of Birkenhead—came up the Thames just before Christmas, at the time of COP26. Does the Minister agree that she is the epitome of all that is best about British science, and that the British Antarctic Survey, through its work in both the Antarctic and the Arctic, leads the world in research on climate change in particular, and in so many other areas of science?

My hon. Friend is right, and he is also a powerful envoy for the Government in terms of our polar science. The royal research ship Sir David Attenborough is something of which all of us in the House can be proud. It is an incredible platform, and it embodies the very best of British leadership in science and innovation, with international scientists working on global challenges.

Will the Minister publish details of the business innovation forum, and how it will hold the Government to account on the distribution of the shared prosperity fund throughout the UK?

Yes. We are in the process of establishing the forum, and I want to ensure that we are talking not just to the same old people whom the Government always talk to but to the companies on the frontline—the leaders of the sectors of tomorrow. In the innovation strategy we set out seven high-growth sectors, and I will publish details of that in due course.