David Rutley is Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary, and is MP for Macclesfield.
Life science affects us all. Advances in the pharmaceutical industry are of global importance, potentially touching all of humanity with life-prolonging and life-enhancing medical treatments. The UK, with a number of internationally important bio-chemistry clusters, is already a world leader in the field, and we must take the opportunities available to us to maintain our position and advance. To stay a global leader, we must use our recently launched modern industrial strategy to build on our local, place-based strengths.
Having launched the UK’s life sciences strategy in 2011, it was a Conservative Prime Minister who was the first in the world to appoint a dedicated life sciences minister, in 2014. In the face of international competitors, we have worked with industry to secure the sector as a British success story, and funding and tax incentives have been put in place. Headline corporation tax rate will fall to 17 per cent by 2020 which, in combination with an incentive known as the Patent Box, could deliver an even lower effective tax rate for businesses investing in research and development (R&D).
Now, under the modern industrial strategy forwarded by Theresa May, life sciences will benefit from an early sector deal, guided by the world-leading immunologist, Professor Sir John Bell of Oxford University. He will be well-versed in the science cluster known as the Golden Triangle between Oxford, Cambridge and London. Now is the time to spread more of the success beyond the South East.
And any sector deal will need to build on the placed-based clusters that are our national strengths as a research base, and get more of what is invented and discovered in the UK to be carried through to commercialisation in the UK. We need the ideas we have here in our universities and laboratories to lead to more manufacturing jobs in the areas around those innovation centres –-just as we, in my local area, are working to do with the Cheshire Science Corridor supported by the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership.
That means we have to equip more people with the right qualifications to take full advantage of the world-class opportunities for skilled jobs in their local area. So, in addition to the traditional academic route of science, the Government in England is providing for post-16 skills education with new technical qualifications – T-Levels – and fifteen clear career paths for apprentices. One of them is ‘Health and Science’, ideal for the prospective pharmaceutical and laboratory technicians we need to support the professional biochemists and doctoral researchers of our leading universities.
One of the fruits of devolution for Scotland has been its own life sciences strategy, recently updated, that aims “to make Scotland the location of choice for businesses, researchers, healthcare professionals and investors.” In Greater Manchester and Cheshire East, a key part of the Northern Powerhouse, we have the same ambition, and a recent audit of science and innovation in our area sets out the great potential for our world-class science assets.
As that report (conducted by the University of Manchester under the sponsorship of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) says, it will be up to us to come together locally to drive synergies from our core capabilities and leverage strategic investment.
The policy framework we need from the Government is one that enables us to get on with the job. Thankfully, it has recognised the value of transferring powers to local partnerships in shaping a sense of place for science clusters – integrating transport, boosting skills provision, ensuring opportunities for leisure and culture and so on. This makes science clusters places that people will want to live and enjoy, not just work.
The Government has made clear that it is willing to provide tax incentives and funding – an extra £2 billion per year in R&D funding in the last Autumn Statement – that will deliver investment in jobs and growth for UK life sciences. Life sciences is an international industry that we can continue to root in British regional clusters as we shape our global future.