There is every reason to increase the role of R&D in the UK economy. Even before we think about high-impact events like Covid-19 and Brexit, the country faced a significant productivity challenge. Normally, after a fiscal crisis, productivity recovers. However, after the 2008 crisis, we observed ‘productivity hysteresis’ – whereby the negative impact on productivity became permanent. This is a problem for living standards, wage growth, public sector sustainability and our ability to compete in the global economy.
Yet, R&D – and particularly health research – is also an excellent antidote to the challenges facing the UK. Covid-19 has created a substantial health backlog, which may impact outcomes for years or decades to come. New discoveries and a renewed focus on improving health outcomes is one way to begin rectifying this. Moreover, Covid-19 has proven the importance of health resilience – to the economy, to our health and to our way of living. A stronger health sector, with more thinkers, more lab space, more capacity and more agility is a good way to support that.
The government should introduce a new, three year life sciences charity partnership fund to support medical research charities. This bespoke fund should be equal to the shortfall in medical charity income caused by Covid-19 and last three years. Charities should be free to use this fund as needed to maintain their R&D portfolio. In exchange, they would be asked to document how they will meet the government’s social priorities: such as levelling-up regional economies and tackling health inequality.
There also needs to be an upgrade in government investment in life science infrastructure to attract and retain private investment, including physical infrastructure (transport and broadband) and social infrastructure (skills and training).
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