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Building a Britain fit for the future

Who’d be Chancellor of the Exchequer, given the historically tight financial circumstances the UK economy finds itself in.

But given those challenges did Rishi Sunak do enough to lay the foundations for a recovery and put in place the building blocks to create an economy for the post-pandemic world?

The Spending Review did contain £14.6 billion towards R&D in 2021-22, building on the government’s commitment to increase public R&D investment to £22 billion per year by 2024-25. That’s significant and recognises the importance of a strong and thriving research base to drive an economic recovery.

The Chancellor also committed to a multi-year UK Research and Innovation and National Academies core research budget, which will grow by more than £400 million on average per year until 2023-24. He also reaffirmed the establishment of a Global Talent Route to better attract scientists, researchers and innovators and re-committed 'to maintaining and enhancing the UK’s position at the forefront of global science collaboration”.

But, for many, the Chancellor’s statement felt like a missed opportunity. While planning to spend more on things like infrastructure, there really was no longer term planning when it came to outlining support for new industries such as green energy, biotech, advanced materials and artificial intelligence.

And although he committed to a new UK infrastructure Bank, Levelling Up Fund and UK Shared Prosperity Fund Sunak’s Spending Review lacked clout and coherence and appeared to be little more than tinkering at the edges.

With the UK economy expected to contract by 11 per cent – it’s worst performance in over 300 years - and our recovery forecast to be among the slowest of the G20, surely now was the time to trigger a wholesale transformation.

The way we live, how we conduct business and interact with one another has fundamentally changed, so wasn’t now the right time to rise to the challenge of what has been the biggest economic upheaval in generations?

Wasn’t now the time to reshape and redefine the economy and to nurture the modern, digital and technical skills that people need if they are to retrain and up-skill?

Government documents show that only £3bn in new money has actually been allocated to a green stimulus, for example, significantly less than in countries like France and Germany who are spending over £60bn on carbon-cutting stimulus measures. By contrast Sunak announced £27bn for new roads – so much for the green revolution!

No vision, no imagination and a missed opportunity to be truly transformative.

Neil Tyler

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