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Joint call for the next Prime Minister to back Research & Development

Business, charities, researchers and universities unite to appeal to Conservative leadership hopefuls

In an unprecedented joint statement, a coalition representing some of the UK’s leading businesses, minds, universities and charities is calling on the next Prime Minister to put research and innovation at the heart of their plan for UK prosperity, post-Brexit.

The group is urging the next Conservative leader to deliver a concrete and overdue vision for UK R&D which builds upon existing pledges, to boost jobs and deliver vital medical, technological and social breakthroughs.

Despite having made a firm commitment to spend 2.4% of national wealth on R&D by 2027, the Government is not on track to meet its target and the UK already trails behind its international competitors, undermining efforts to develop new cancer treatments, tackle climate change and support the knowledge-intensive industries of the future.    

It will be up to Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt to bring these commitments back on track and prove they are a leader of action over words.

Joint statement in full

The next leader of the Conservative Party should commit to ensuring the UK remains a world leader in research and innovation.  

We ask the Conservative leadership contenders to pledge their support for the R&D commitments necessary to ensure the UK remains globally competitive, delivering a strong and prosperous future for our economy and society post-Brexit. 

The evidence is clear: investment in R&D drives productivity and raises living standards, benefiting people and communities across the whole of the UK. From the great challenges of our time, including cancer, climate change, food security and caring for an ageing society, to the creation of high-skilled jobs, new businesses, and the innovations that power our NHS – UK research and innovation has real-life impact.  

It is vital that the next government sends a clear message to domestic and international investors that the UK is open for business and ready to embrace the opportunities of a changing world. Globally, our competitors such as Germany, Israel, South Korea and Japan already invest more than 3% of their GDP in R&D.  

The next Prime Minister must set out a long-term plan for research and innovation investment up to 2030. This should build on the Government target to boost overall R&D investment initially to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 – and the longer-term aim of 3% of GDP.

But words and targets will not be enough, the UK needs a coherent long-term plan to build our position as the global hub for new world-leading technologies, to draw on our strengths across multiple disciplines, to attract talent from around the world and to promote British entrepreneurship.  

Action is overdue. The next leader of the Conservative Party will have the opportunity to be the Prime Minister who builds a bold vision for UK R&D, putting us on a solid path to delivering it.

The statement has been signed by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Association of Medical Research Charities, the British Academy, the Campaign for Science and Engineering, Cancer Research UK, the Confederation for British Industry, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Russell Group and Universities UK.


What is the Government doing on R&D?

The Government is committed to raising investment on R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and 3% in the longer-term. The 2.4% target was chosen on the basis that this is the average amount OECD countries invested in R&D in 2015.

However, UK spending on R&D represented just 1.69% of GDP in 2017. The CBI has calculated that, based on current trends, the 2.4% target will not be met until 2053. Indeed, if looked at over time, the UK’s expenditure on R&D has fallen, from 2.01% in 1981 to 1.69% in 2017.

Current investment in R&D as a proportion of GDP


% GDP spent on R&D, 2017

South Korea












Evidence shows public investment in R&D leverages additional private investment in R&D. In the UK, around two-thirds of R&D investment comes from the private sector, with one-third coming from the public sector.

On this 2:1 basis, the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) has modelled the increases in public and private investment required to reach 2.4% by 2027, and 3% in the longer-term.

Examples of real-life research impacts:

  • Patients cared for in research-active hospitals have better outcomes, with higher levels of research-activity leading to lower rates of patient mortality following emergency admissions. Research has helped double cancer survival in the UK since the 1970s.
  • Around 25% of the world’s top 100 prescription medicines were discovered and developed in the UK (BMI Research: United Kingdom Pharmaceuticals & Healthcare Report Q1 2016).
  • Researchers were key in recommending the introduction of the plastic bag charge. This has already led to an 83% fall in the number of plastic bags used in England. While more than 7bn bags were handed out by seven main supermarkets in the year before the charge, this figure fell to around 500m in the first six months after the charge was introduced.
  • Research into patterns of organised crime is helping us tackle fraud and money laundering, reducing their multi-billion pound cost to society. 
  • Rice provides 23% of the calories consumed by mankind, yet a devasting disease call rice blast threatens its future. UK researchers are working to develop new disease resistant forms of rice in order to safeguard food security.

Research boosts the economy

UK productivity levels continue to be weaker than other economies. For the year 2016, the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) per hour worked was 26.2% lower than Germany, 22.8% lower than France and 22.6% lower than the US.

Based on research conducted by London Economics, Russell Group analysis indicates that for every £1 of public research funding they secure, UK universities deliver an average return of £8.35 to the UK economy.

Firms that consistently invest in R&D are 13% more productive than firms that do not invest in R&D (Dept for Business Innovation and Skills: Innovation Report 2014: Innovation, Research and Growth)

Every job in the life sciences industry supports two-and-a-half jobs elsewhere in the UK economy.

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