Norman Lamb highlights science and technology challenges at Industry Forum

9 November 2017

Norman Lamb highlights science and technology challenges at Industry Forum

Also on the panel were IOP chief executive Professor Paul Hardaker and IOP Fellow Rod Dowler, chair of the Industry Forum – who chaired proceedings.

During a lively discussion where Brexit was a recurring theme, Lamb said that he aimed to be a proactive chair of the committee who would engage with and understand the key issues and get them onto the committee’s agenda.

On Brexit, he said that this momentous decision raised very significant concerns for the science community and that the committee was very conscious of the vast array of institutional changes required against a very tight timescale. He commented on the need for collaboration and joint working with Europe to ensure that we can continue to lead on science.

On Horizon 2020, he said the committee would be stressing to the government the urgency of settling the status of successor programmes, and went on to say that the UK needed to attract the best people, characterising UK science and research centres as a totally global workforce of the best people from around the world, and not just from the EU.

On the government’s pledge on R&D funding – an extra £4.7 bn by 2021 – Lamb stressed that this needed to be provided in a progressive, incremental and continuing manner during the remainder of this spending period, so that it could be absorbed effectively, and capacity planned and built. He also said that one of the committee’s priorities would be to look for remedies to regional imbalances in funding to help ensure that the whole of our country shares in prosperity.

In comments before and during the discussion, Professor Hardaker referenced the IOP Awards Dinner the previous evening in London, stressing in particular the IOP’s strong links with industry and pointing out that half of our membership comes from business and industry.

Questions from the audience of business people covered legislation and the skills and innovation landscape. Hardaker pointed out that we had good examples of where the skills and innovation base had been successfully brought together with business. He went on to say that UKRI had the potential to grow inter-disciplinary, holistic research by bringing together physics, chemistry and biology to tackle, for example, serious medical conditions.

And apologising for mentioning Brexit at 8.30 in the morning, Hardaker said that this presented real challenges across the whole science and innovation landscape. He pointed out that 44% of academic staff in our physics departments are non-UK nationals and that physics-based businesses employ around two million people. Brexit was already having an unsettling effect, he said, making the point that as we depend so much on people for our world-class science base, there are some really big challenges for us to face up to over the next 12 to 24 months. But on the positive side, he said, we are starting from a world-class position. He cited Euratom, which governs the movement of nuclear materials, as a pressing example for Brexit negotiations, describing this as really critical for how we manage healthcare and global security.

Hardaker stressed that the IOP looks forward to working closely with the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee.