Why science, innovation and technology must be at the heart of the UK’s plan for growth
New Chair of the Catapult Network, Katherine Bennett CBE, explains how joint collaboration between industry and Government can deliver on the UK's growth ambitions.
How can the UK drive innovation in businesses, and what is the role of technology in the future of the UK economy? These questions were at the core of a report commissioned over a decade ago by the then Business Secretary Lord Mandelson. The answer was to bridge the gap between research and industry, which had each previously struggled to connect at the scale required to make significant impact. Out of this need, Catapults were born – a collective of nine technology centres across the UK, working in partnership with universities, businesses and Government to drive innovation across key industrial sectors.
Collectively, our network collaborates with thousands of innovators in public, private and third sectors, nationally and internationally. Whether its pharma, biotech, electronics, finance, aerospace, manufacturing, telecoms, transport, places, energy, or space, the Catapults have a critical role to play. We support ingenuity across the entire UK innovation ecosystem, from the largest multinationals looking to boost efficiency and productivity, to startups striving to adopt emerging technologies and compete on the national and global stage.
In essence, Catapults de-risk innovation at pace. We help key stakeholders predict and respond to strategic priorities, producing home-grown innovation whilst increasing national resilience. Collectively, the Catapult Network has built a highly skilled workforce of over 5,000 people spread between more than 50 centres and world-leading cutting-edge technical capability. These clusters of innovation help to build talent and create highly-skilled jobs within and outside of the Oxford, Cambridge and London ‘golden triangle’, providing a pathway to drive national and international investment to all corners of the UK.
You can already see how the UK is laying the foundations for a major science and technology push. Last month, the unveiling of the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and Department for Business and Trade signalled it is time for the country to focus on creating the best possible environment for innovation and growth.
Far-reaching expertise, in-depth industry knowledge and a wide range of perspectives are a huge strength when it comes to problem-solving and innovation. Continuing to build a team with diverse skills and experiences therefore remains a priority across all the Catapults. We are working with educators to embed STEM skills into curricula at all levels, through internships, apprenticeships and working with business communities to ready the innovators of tomorrow.
These ambitions are embedded in the Inclusivity in Innovation Charter which was signed in 2022, outlining the principles of creating a rich and inclusive culture to successfully drive innovation, productivity and growth. We will keep developing our understanding of how Catapults can shape a diverse foundation of future skills as the UK’s talents and technology continues to evolve.
The rapid manufacture and procurement of ventilators, PPE, vaccines scale-up and set up of testing labs during the COVID pandemic is just one example of the Catapults’ diverse skills, knowledge and capability in action. Government uses our centres to quickly bring together the experts and tools needed to support the UK through one of the toughest times in living memory.
Together, we weathered the coronavirus storm, but UK innovators still face significant obstacles in the short to medium-term if they are to support Government’s ambition for growth. Energy prices, the cost-of-living crisis and supply chain uncertainty are creating real global challenges. Innovation plays a critical role in these, bringing new solutions for low-cost green energy, helping businesses adopt the latest digital technology to accelerate their productivity, creating advanced solutions for the most critical health problems, and so on. Connecting with the rich UK science and innovation ecosystem, across academia, business, funders, with RTO groups like the Association for Innovation, Research and Technology Organisations (AIRTO) in the UK and the European Association of Research and Technology (EARTO) in Europe, as well as supporting the implementation of new funding programmes such as the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), will be crucial.
The Catapult Network wholeheartedly echoes the Government’s call that science, technology and innovation are integral to future UK growth. By continuing to work together, we can inspire a new generation of innovators, boost business growth, and make the UK a global science superpower and innovation nation for decades to come.
Katherine is the new Chair of the Catapult Network and CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.
About the Catapult Network
The Catapult Network is made up of nine world-leading technology and innovation centres established by Innovate UK. It supports businesses in transforming great ideas into valuable products and services, delivering impact across the UK economy and enabling businesses to thrive in global markets. Since inception, the Catapults have collectively played a leading role in delivering over 18,000 industry collaborations, over 5500 academic collaborations and supported over 11,000 innovative SMEs across a wide range of sectors and extended international partnership projects.
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