Innovation and emerging technologies key topics

Addressing key issues within the innovation and emerging technologies sectors.

Person using digital tablet

Innovation and commercial utilisation of emerging technologies are vital for the UK’s economic prosperity. For consumers, innovation provides better goods and services. For businesses, innovation brings profitability and growth. For the UK as a whole, innovation provides a competitive edge in high value-added industry. As well as bringing economic benefits, innovation is vital for addressing major societal and environmental challenges.

The role of engineering

  • The government’s focus on innovation in the past few years is welcome.
  • It must be recognised that the economic benefits of innovation often have a slow dynamic, and focus must be maintained to secure them.
  • However politicians often refer only to “science and innovation” and ignore the importance of engineering as a key step in realising innovation.
  • Engineering is a key pillar in bridging the gap between scientific research and commercial success. 
  • Innovation in engineering, for example in processes, techniques and applications, can give a considerable competitive advantage in global markets.

Capitalising on the UK’s science base

  • The UK has successfully developed a world-class science research base, with many of the world’s leading research universities located in this country, and an appetite for collaboration between academe and industry.
  • However the UK has a relatively weak record in utilising its research base for economic benefit, with a relatively limited extent of translation of scientific research into new products and services.
  • This is recognised to be partly due to risk-aversion on the parts of both investors and entrepreneurs, which can be mitigated by assistance in development and demonstration.
  • Government is making important efforts to address this problem. The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) must continue to provide the much needed support to UK innovation and the government in turn support the TSB.

Public procurement

  • The government spends £220 billion per annum on goods and services procured from the private and third sectors.
  • With the right processes in place, public procurement can encourage innovation and the development of UK capability, by providing a vital source of financial support for innovative, high tech small and medium sized companies.
  • However currently there is a tendency for government procurers to buy well-known, “off-the-shelf” products from established providers.
  • There must be a change of culture across government. Procurers in government departments must be more willing to consider innovative ideas from suppliers. Departments should encourage the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).
  • We recommend that the government should also continue with its aim to ensure that a proportion of central government contracts are awarded to small and medium businesses (SMEs).
  • The IET would be pleased to engage in advising on, and raising public awareness of, strategic procurement.