The latest developments in UK innovation policy, and the reactions of the innovation community.
Over the next few months I’ll be keeping an eye on the latest developments in UK innovation policy, and the reactions of the innovation community. This time I look at: the referendum fallout; the progress of the Higher Education Bill; the seemingly-buried Caldicott Review; and the Digital Economy Bill.
Whilst the debate over the negotiations and implementation of Article 50 continues in mainstream politics, greater attention is now being paid to the potential implications for UK science and research, with the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee holding an enquiry into the matter. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee will be holding an evidence session to follow its report ‘EU Membership and UK Science’, which was published before the referendum.
A survey reported by Times Higher Education revealed that increasing numbers of academics are concerned about EU funding, which UK universities currently receive £1.2 billion a year from. The result has also deterred some from applying for funding and others taking up UK research positions, with uncertainty over the exact nature of the relationship with the EU likely to be behind this.
David Cameron has moved to ease fears in academia over continued EU funding, as he confirmed contracts for Horizon 2020 – the EU financial initiative investing in research and innovation – signed before the date on which the UK leaves “will be honoured”
However, a reduction in available funding is likely to continue to be a chief concern for academics, and the Commons Public Accounts Committee has published a report urging the Government to adopt a more consistent and evidence-based approach to spending on science projects. The report also states more must be done to protect the intellectual property that results from taxpayers' investment and to secure the benefits for the UK economy.
Since 2007, BIS has committed around £3.2 billion capital funding for major science projects and has announced plans to spend £5.9 billion on capital projects between 2016 and 2021.
Jo Johnson gave a speech on 30th June in which he confirmed the proposals of the recent White Paper Success as a Knowledge Economy would go ahead. Whether this is the right decision remains up for some debate, with Wonkhe publishing a piece by Mark Leach (Founder, Director and Editor in Chief of Wonkhe) that asserts it needs to paused.
to which Gordon McKenzie (CEO of GuildHE) responded with a counter article that the reforms proposed in the Bill are a “matter of some urgency for many in the sector”
One factor that may also affect the timeline of the Bill is the likely debate over the Chilcott report, followed by Parliamentary recess from 21st July. The former will prevent the Bill getting a second reading next week, after which there will only be four days before recess to progress it.
The Bill covers a number of changes relevant to innovation. In his speech, Jo Johnson also made the following points:
You can read a detailed analysis on the implications of UKRI by James Wilsdon highlighting the ongoing issues:
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee have also weighed in on the debate, having held an enquiry into the proposals. They are concerned at the lack of a “strong and clear evidence base” and recommend the merger of Innovate UK and the Research Councils is reconsidered, as it may threaten the “valuable business-facing focus” of Innovate UK.
Somewhat overshadowed by another long-awaited report was the publication of the Review of Data Security, Consent and Opt-Outs, led by Dame Fiona Caldicott. The review was commissioned in response to privacy concerns over controversial new data-sharing proposals intended to improve patient care in the NHS.
The Review proposed that there should be a simplified process to opt out from the system, and that the proposed consent/opt-out model should be put out to consultation. It was also found that there is strong public support for use of anonymised data, but concerns were raised over use of personal confidential data due to previous breaches.
In light of this, Minister of Life Sciences George Freeman announced that the controversial Care.data programme was to be scrapped (having originally been halted in 2014), whilst outlining the government remain committed to the benefits of big data.
“New technology and big data offers potential for improvements to care which can benefit all of us,” Caldicott said. “And these advances have implications for how data must be safeguarded and used.
“But the dialogue with the public and its understanding have not grown at the same speed as the capacity of technology.”
Also this week, the Digital Economy Bill had its first reading in Parliament. The Bill has provisions for data sharing, allowing public bodies to share information with each other by removing “costly barriers”, such as for allocating benefits or confirmation of births. They will also be granted new powers to share information in order to combat public sector fraud, with new offences for unlawful disclosure.
There are also plans to make it easier for researchers and statisticians to access public sector data, in order that official statistics are more accurate and up to date.
Opportunities in anonymised big data go far beyond the public sector. Readie recently held an interview with Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google, on how Google trends can be utilised effectively: