CBI: Government needs to help British businesses get better at innovation

To survive the challenge of Brexit, the UK will “need to work hard” to become the front-runner in global innovation says the group

Posted 21 November 2016 by Gary Flood

The Confederation of Business Industry speaks for 190,000 UK firmsBritish businesses are planning to bolster spending on innovation to drive business growth, says the CBI – which is already at an all-time high of £21bn per year.

The employers’ organisation makes the claim in advance of its annual conference in London today off the back of a poll of 800 firms it’s just conducted.

The study, carried out in tandem with consultancies Deloitte and Hays, shows that 70% of respondents plan to increase or maintain their innovation spending following the vote to leave the EU, while only 7% plan to reduce their investment.

The problem: all that money doesn’t seem to be enough – as CBI members still only rate the country as 10th in the world for innovation.

Respondents see the UK as a “world-beater” in areas such as access to scientific research (35%) and tax incentives to support investment (30%), but fear the UK lags behind in other critical areas. These include partnering with external companies (21%) and grant funding (14%).

To spur innovation, the top priorities identified in the study are are to increase collaboration and partnership (65%), greater access to technical skills (68%) and increased Government support (56%) for business.

Looking ahead to the upcoming EU negotiations, CBI members firms have a number of top priorities that will enable them to innovate in the future.

These include access to skills (66%), tariff-free access for goods (41%) and keeping common regulatory standards (38%), says the research.

Commenting on the findings, Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said: “The UK will need to work hard to become the front-runner in global innovation, creating a pioneering economic role for itself in the world that drives prosperity in every corner of the UK.

“Spending on innovation generates jobs and economic growth across the country, offering solutions to the challenges we face today and in the years ahead from improving healthcare and mobile technology to a new generation of autonomous vehicles.

“While the UK has many innovation strengths to build on, businesses are worried that the country is too much of a follower in the global economy, with the lack of access to technical skills a grave concern for ambitious firms.”

“Britain has a real opportunity to be a world leader in innovation, and we should be ambitious in our vision for what can be achieved. It is promising that businesses recognise the need to prioritise investing in new technologies,” added David Sproul, chief executive of Deloitte UK.

“However, while our country excels in ideas generation, it has a less successful track record to date of businesses adopting innovative approaches to boost productivity.

“We have an opportunity in the new post Brexit world to change that; Britain has world leading universities, but still has more to do to raise its record on secondary education, strengthening vocational routes to work and increasing the focus on skills for the future.”

“Government and business must work together to realign our education system in order to produce the graduates with the skills that are needed by today’s and tomorrow’s industries.

“In the meantime we must not restrict access into the UK for highly-skilled workers from abroad,” added Alistair Cox, Chief Executive, Hays.

“Only by ensuring that UK businesses can access world-class talent, whether home-grown or from overseas, can we ensure that British business remains competitive and gains a position at the leading edge of innovation globally.”