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Innovation UK: A manifesto for change

Building a culture of innovation in the UK is key to kick-starting the economy, but it will require sharp changes in incentives and learning, warns Danny Wootton

FOR MANY years now the UK and other countries have looked jealously to the US and the extraordinary cauldron of innovation that has brewed in Silicon Valley, spouting iconic companies – from Hewlett-Packard to Facebook via Oracle, Adobe and Google and in turn building platforms for others to build on, creating wealth, skills and employing millions of people.

More recently, eyes have been turned to the thunderous progress of BRIC countries as they have reshaped the picture of global competition by investing in infrastructure and providing goods and services at costs well below those of the established western powerhouses. The big questions are simple enough: how do we repeat the magic here and make the UK a comparable global centre for innovation and growth?

Of course, this not the first time that these questions have been asked. In 1963, Harold Wilson called for the “white heat” of science and technology to shape the UK’s future. Luminaries such as Sir Richard Branson, Trevor Baylis and Sir James Dyson have long called for significant structural changes to education and investment. And, very recently, the government hailed the East London Tech City as a potential addition to the “world’s great technology centres” and contributed a useful starter package of measures.

But we need to go further. If we are to build a culture of innovation in the UK, and in the process better compete with India, Russia, China, Brazil, Israel and other growth economies, there must be sharp changes in incentives, learning and other areas.

At the same time, the economic climate means there can be no attempt to just throw money at the problem. We need to have deep connections between government and the private sector so that companies gain at the same time as they give, and are rewarded for their forward-thinking in the form of long-term incentives.

We should also take advantage of the resources we have on our doorstep. There is a huge amount of academic research that is difficult and costly for commercial organisations to find and tap into, and therefore currently lies dormant. Through the creation of a central register, academic institutions would be able to capture and share their innovative ideas and intellectual property.

Under strict non-disclosure agreements, companies could then explore whether those ideas have any commercial value. Once the relevant commercial agreements are in place, academia would benefit from new revenue streams and companies would benefit from new sources of commercially exploitable intellectual property. This could act as a catalyst for innovation in the private sector

We should look at how we can use public sector procurement to stimulate innovation. We believe the introduction of a policy, where public sector contracts are awarded to companies that demonstrate open innovation and a collaborative approach with small businesses and academia, will stimulate innovation and growth. This policy should outline the innovation and collaborative mechanisms that government contractors should meet in order to ensure the taxpayer achieves the best value from its contractors.

Although the above two initiatives would not necessarily have an instant impact on our global recovery, it would put the foundations in place for sustained innovation and send the right message to academia, public and private sector organisations

Danny Wootton is Logica UK’s innovation director

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