11 January 2022
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Questions

George Freeman, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, answers MPs’ questions on harnessing science and innovation for the purposes of the Government’s levelling-up agenda and supporting life sciences clusters across the UK.

Science and Innovation: Levelling Up

Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con)

3. What steps he is taking to harness science and innovation for the purposes of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. (904924)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)

UK leadership in science, technology and innovation is already driving huge investment in new sectors, companies and clusters throughout the UK, from the Newquay spaceport to the Shetlands, and from Northern Ireland to Teesside, Aberdeen and other life science clusters around the country. However, we intend to go further, and following our innovation nation strategy, we are committed to supporting those clusters. I am engaged in talks with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and details will be provided in the forthcoming levelling up White Paper.

Karl MᶜCartney 

My hon. Friend may know that a leading example of science and innovation as a key tool in achieving levelling up is the Lincoln Science and Innovation Park in my city constituency of Lincoln, which has been headed by the excellent Tom Blount for a number of years. The aptly named Boole Technology Centre, of calculus infamy, has been a great success to date and continues to expand even further, recently attracting notable international tenants and job providers. What financial support can our Government offer, so that organisations such as the Lincoln Science and Innovation Park can continue to grow and nurture companies such as KryptoKloud, and similar new ones can be created?

George Freeman 

I congratulate my hon. Friend, who has been a tireless advocate for the Lincoln cluster. He asked about funding. In the comprehensive spending review, we set out the biggest increase in investment in science and innovation for a generation. Specifically, 34 projects in the cluster are funded by UK Research and Innovation. I look forward to discussing this with my hon. Friend, who has made a powerful pitch for that centre to be recognised as a cluster, and I look forward to visiting it.

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)

The University of Sheffield’s new gene therapy innovation and manufacturing centre shows that South Yorkshire can lead the world when it comes to research, but nearly half of all R&D spending goes into the golden triangle. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the north gets its fair share?

George Freeman 

That was a great question. The hon. Gentleman is right. In fact, there are several clusters in the Yorkshire area, and in a previous career I myself worked in the Sheffield university cluster, which is very powerful.

Our strategy is that if we wish to be both a global science superpower to attract investment internationally and an innovation nation, we will not achieve that by moving the golden triangle north. What we must do is increase spending in the north, which we are already doing, and grow the supply chains in, for instance, advanced manufacturing. We are not just an invention economy; we are also a manufacturing and innovation economy, and Yorkshire, and Sheffield specifically, have a big part to play in that.

James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con)

That truly iconic British-built scientific research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough—built by Cammell Laird of Birkenhead—came up the Thames just before Christmas, at the time of COP26. Does the Minister agree that she is the epitome of all that is best about British science, and that the British Antarctic Survey, through its work in both the Antarctic and the Arctic, leads the world in research on climate change in particular, and in so many other areas of science?

George Freeman 

My hon. Friend is right, and he is also a powerful envoy for the Government in terms of our polar science. The royal research ship Sir David Attenborough is something of which all of us in the House can be proud. It is an incredible platform, and it embodies the very best of British leadership in science and innovation, with international scientists working on global challenges.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab)

Will the Minister publish details of the business innovation forum, and how it will hold the Government to account on the distribution of the shared prosperity fund throughout the UK?

George Freeman 

Yes. We are in the process of establishing the forum, and I want to ensure that we are talking not just to the same old people whom the Government always talk to but to the companies on the frontline—the leaders of the sectors of tomorrow. In the innovation strategy we set out seven high-growth sectors, and I will publish details of that in due course.


Life Sciences

Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)

8. What support his Department is providing to life sciences clusters across the UK. (904929)

Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)

12. What steps he is taking to develop the UK’s life sciences sector. (904933)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)

As a result of this Government’s long-term life science strategy, now a 10-year strategy, I am delighted to be able to share with the House that the life science sector has grown, in terms of private investment, by 1,000% in the last 10 years and is creating jobs all around the UK—in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales. At the heart of our strategy for the innovation nation, in our life science vision last summer we set out a plan, with £5 billion in the comprehensive spending review of funding for life science research, and we intend to support those clusters all around the UK.

Simon Fell 

I welcome the effort that my hon. Friend has given to developing this important policy and his characteristic kindness in engaging with me on it. Clusters will be crucial to improving UK resilience and building our manufacturing capacity. In Ulverston we have an established base with GSK, but I want to see that grow, with new entrants like Lakes BioScience coming in, building high-skilled jobs and the supply chain. With that in mind, may I ask how the strategy will apply to south Cumbria? May I also invite him to the sunlit uplands of Ulverston to visit and see for himself?

George Freeman 

I thank my hon. Friend and pay tribute to his tireless campaigning for Barrow and Furness and on this issue. I understand well the concerns following GSK’s movement from the Ulverston site. I would just make this point: quite often such moves of pharma from one site to another create an opportunity. As the Minister for Life Sciences, I launched the life science opportunity zones and we created thriving clusters at Alderley Park and Sandwich; it would be my ambition to do the same up at Ulverston. I very much look forward to coming up and visiting, and my officials are working closely on that as we speak.

Peter Gibson 

Central Park in my constituency is furthering Darlington’s ingenious spirit as it drives forward UK life sciences, with firms on our golden mile creating and developing the medicines of the future, as the Secretary of State knows from his recent visit. Will my hon. Friend outline what steps his Department is taking to ensure that firms in Darlington use local talent in the pursuit of further scientific breakthroughs?

George Freeman 

My hon. Friend makes an important point about talent and is right that a powerful cluster is taking shape in the north-east. Following my return to the Government two months ago, my first visit was to the north-east. From Darlington to North of Tyne, an incredible cluster is taking shape, with the National Biologics Manufacturing Centre, the Centre for Process Innovation and the National Horizons Centre all in that golden mile in Darlington. It is an incredibly exciting time and I look forward to going back up to see my hon. Friend’s constituency and how we can develop a skills plan so that the sector can grow in the next five to 10 years.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)

In his earlier answer, the Minister alluded to co-operation among the various parts of the United Kingdom; will he ensure that there is maximum co-operation so that sites such as the centre for drug discovery, which is linked to the life sciences faculty at the Coleraine campus in my constituency, can maximise their opportunities?

George Freeman 

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. With Queen’s University Belfast and the Randox cluster, Northern Ireland is a powerhouse in life sciences and both the Secretary of State and I have been to visit. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has made that point and will make sure that the Northern Ireland cluster is powerfully at the heart of our innovation strategy.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)

In York, we want to maintain momentum around the BioYorkshire project—York’s green new deal—so will the Minister set out when the project can apply for funding under the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council funding regime?

George Freeman 

I have had meetings with the hon. Member since she raised this issue previously. We are in the process of allocating—I repeat—the biggest ever increase in science and innovation funding for a generation. Once that process has been completed, we will begin to allocate the money throughout the country. The hon. Member has made a powerful intervention on behalf of that cluster, which I am going to come up to see. There is an exciting cluster of companies in the York, Harrogate and east of Yorkshire area.

Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)

The Minister is absolutely right about the overall success of the Government’s life sciences strategy, but he will be aware of the chilling effect on UK manufacturers, including one in my constituency, of the outcomes of the coronavirus test device approval process. I know the Minister is a believer in agile regulation, so will he conduct a review, with the UK Health Security Agency, to understand what lessons can be learned to assist UK manufacturers in future?

George Freeman 

As per usual, my hon. Friend makes an important point. I am not the Minister responsible for the vaccine taskforce, but I am already reaching out to my colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care on that very point to make sure that in the light of this pandemic we boost our manufacturing centre as well as our research.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)

British life scientists led the world in the battle against covid, and we need them to lead the fight against another great health challenge: dementia, which destroys so many lives and imposes huge private and public health and social care costs. This month, research published in The Lancet found that by 2050 worldwide dementia cases will treble and cases will go up by 75% in the UK. That is why Labour is promising to double research and development spend on dementia—a commitment that was also in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. Will the Minister confirm that dementia R&D spend has gone down since his Government took office?

George Freeman 

I agree with the hon. Lady that that the dementia research and treatment sector is incredibly important, which is why, when then Prime Minister Cameron set up the G20 summit, I was incredibly proud, as Minister for Life Sciences, to launch the UK Dementia Research Institute. In the CSR, we announced another £340 million for motor neurone disease research. As I say, I am in the process of allocating the biggest ever R&D increase and we will look to make sure—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady is heckling me from a sedentary position; perhaps she will listen. We are in the process of allocating that money to make sure that dementia gets the recognition that it needs.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)

To ensure that our fantastic life science sector continues to prosper and lead the world, we need to inspire the next generation of life scientists. What more can the Minister’s Department do to show that there is a place for everyone in the sector, regardless of race, background or gender, and that their future efforts could change lives both at home and abroad and tackle some of the great challenges that we know exist.

George Freeman 

Not surprisingly, my hon. Friend, who is an expert in this field, makes an important point. In the people and culture strategy that we set out this summer, we make that very point: we need to build a diverse eco-system. I have already reached out to the Royal Society and picked up and commended its work on science, technology, engineering and maths and diversity in the sciences. The truth is that our science sector is creating opportunities all around the country, and we are absolutely committed in the innovation strategy to make sure that every community in this country has access to those jobs and opportunities.