Speaking at a Foundation for Science and Technology event on Wednesday on the R&D Roadmap and ‘Levelling Up’ alongside UK Minister for Science, Research and Innovation Amanda Solloway MP, the Minister called for the UK Government to go further in driving innovation in Wales.
He highlighted that currently, despite Wales making up five per cent of the UK population, it Wales receives just two per cent of UK R&D investment.
Public spending on R&D is more concentrated towards London, the East of England and the South East of England, with those regions accounting for 52% of UK R&D spend, despite having only 37% of the population.
Economy Minister Ken Skates said:
“The future prosperity and stability of the UK depends on all parts of the union being able to contribute to an innovative and productive economy and I want to see Wales being given every chance to pull its weight and reach its full potential.
“Sadly the UK remains the most regionally unbalanced economy in Western Europe.
“The historical system has meant that those UK regions that dominate R&D spending are being given an unfair advantage over other parts of the UK. Wales is not on a level playing field with those UK regions and this disparity is something the UK Government must correct and rethink quickly.
“I welcome moves towards a more place-based approach to R&D funding but would stress again that it is crucial that this delivers an equitable balance across the UK’s nations and regions.
Wales has a proud history of supporting cutting-edge research and innovation and has been a globally-engaged nation in this area. Those to have benefited from Welsh Government support include the AMRC in Broughton, MSparc on Anglesey, the Aberystwyth-based veterinary research hub, the National Digital Exploitation Centre in Ebbw Vale and South Wales’ compound semiconductor cluster.
The Welsh Government has also made investments in nuclear research and innovation capability in North Wales, most notably through the Sêr Cymru programme, such as the National Thermal Hydraulic Facility and the creation of the Nuclear Futures Institute research group.
Since 2014, the Welsh Government has invested over £500 million of EU structural funds in research and innovation.
EU money has made a major contribution to increasing the volume, quality and impact of research in Wales over the last 20 years.
As the UK leaves the European Union that funding will come to an end and the Minister again said the UK Government must deliver on their promise that Wales will not be a penny worse off as a result of Brexit.
The Minister added:
“We want to see a clear commitment to replace the Structural Funds we are losing on a pound-for-pound basis.
“That level of equity would offer Wales the opportunity to seize the many opportunities out there and continue its excellent innovation activity, much of which has been historically been funded by EU money. This move to support innovation in Wales could potentially drive economic growth here for decades to come.
“I want Wales to develop its capacity to carry out research and innovation at scale, not just for our own benefit, but also to ensure we can make our best possible contribution to the UK’s long-term growth and prosperity. We have shown what is possible here in Wales and we have the ambition to use investments, such as the AMRC in Flintshire and the NDEC in Blaenau Gwent, as catalysts to attract further investment and development.
“This will require a substantial devolution of funding – and it is critical that we are involved in the decisions that affect us.
“We stand ready to be a constructive partner to help deliver this agenda.