The UK faces a recovery of at least six years while our leading politicians are “sitting on their hands” when it comes to embracing and encouraging innovation, a leading economic commentator has claimed.
Will Hutton, chairman of the Big Innovation Centre, said he believed it is vital the Government demonstrates “a big commitment to the science base”.
He and is calling on the Chancellor and Business Secretary to be bold and embrace the innovation agenda with actions rather than words in his Autumn Statement.
“I would like to see Government action,” said Mr Hutton, who was in Birmingham as part of BIC’s drive to make the UK a global innovation hub.
“I don’t think Vince Cable and George Osborne are interested in Britain growing by half a per cent or one per cent. But I would like to see them convert to the cause of doing something. They can create architectures in which our business people can drive forward. They are desperately sitting on their hands.
“I would like to see a big mobilisation in our investment in innovation and for the Technology Strategy Board to be given serious money.”
Improving the flow of funding for SMEs is also high on Mr Hutton’s wish list in the Chancellor’s statement with the innovation campaigner firmly believing that freeing up funding is essential if UK business is to get back on its feet.
Measures also need to be taken to stem the rise of youth unemployment, according to Mr Hutton, who is calling for all National Insurance contributions for people under the age of 24 by both employees and employers to be suspended by the Chancellor.
“I would like to see three big things happening in finance,” said Mr Hutton, who was one of a host of speakers addressing business leaders at the first Innovation Hub for a Day conference taking place in the city.
“Firstly, decisive and credible measures to support the flow of loans to SMEs. I would also like the Business Growth Fund get some government money and turn it into a proper bank to support SMEs – it has only done one deal in six months.
“Thirdly, an infrastructure bank to see a transformation in British infrastructure – and I would like this these things get going in 2012.”
Birmingham’s Hub for a Day conference is the first regional event of its kind to take place and organised by Birmingham City University in partnership with BIC.
Speakers included Prof Birgitte Andersen (BIC), Prof David Bailey (Coventry University Business School), Dr David Hardman (Birmingham Science Park Aston), Vicky Price (co chair Design Commission Inquiry into Design Education), Beverley Nielsen (BCU), William McGrath (AGA Rangemaster) and John Rider (IoD West Midlands).
Highlighting the need to foster innovation, Mr Hutton stressed the depth of the downturn.
“This is going to be the longest and deepest recession since the 19th century – much worse than the 1930s,” he said. “We are in real trouble.
“It’s going to take us six years to get back to where we were in 2008. It has never taken so long.”
He also said the region needs to diversify and explore new sectors when it comes to generating growth and creating jobs, given its traditional reliance on manufacturing and more recently the public sector.
“Most of the jobs generated in the West Midlands between 1998 and 2008 were generated in the public sector,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for the public sector the Midlands would have been in dire trouble.”
In terms of employment he said the number of manufacturing jobs had shrunk by 3.8 million over the last 30 years, while other areas such as health and social care, professional, science and technology, education and administration and business services had seen increases of between one million and two million.
But Mr Hutton warned areas like business services, which had seen the number of jobs double in the last decade, was a trend that would not be repeated.
“Traditional sources of growth have expired, which is why this innovation agenda is so important,” he said.
“We are living in a period of profound scientific change and we have to act fast.”
Focusing on the challenges that lie ahead he said Britain was also in danger of getting left behind.
“I think this country has neglected thinking hard about the institutions that support wealth generation for far too long,” he said. “It thought the City of London was going to be the answer.
“We are calling for what I call an innovative eco system, a whole kind of fabric of institutions that will support enterprise.
“If you asked what an innovative eco system was in countries like Germany, Switzerland or Taiwan they would know exactly what I was talking about.
“Here we have bought the fact that a successful market economy is all about people having a lightbulb moment. All they have to do is go off and do it and the institutions that support them are already there but it is just not true.
“Other countries have done their sorting out at an early stage and have a business class who really believe in building companies.
“We are far too interested in the next deal rather than the next great idea to build a great company and are paying a huge price for it.
“I disagree with the Government’s policy framework. The big story is we just don’t have the institutions to do business for us.
“The Germans are spending £5 billion a year on the next Planck and Fraunhofer institutes but we are not at the races. That is just on transferring an idea from universities and research laboratories to have a commercial application. The Germans have already done that and that is before we start talking about training or the financial system.
“The country needs to convert to good capitalism. We need to build an innovative eco system and it has to happen everywhere.
“If it doesn’t happen in Birmingham it won’t happen. It must happen here.
“BIC is my brainchild, to get this debate going. I am very delighted some companies are backing it and I’m delighted that people in Birmingham have picked it up and are running with it today and thinking ‘what would this mean in Birmingham’.
Mr Hutton’s calls for forward thinking on innovation, and collaboration in particular, were echoed by many speakers, including Dr David Hardman, chief executive of Birmingham Science Park Aston, who cited the rise of Apple as an example which should be emulated.
“Apple is great,” he said. “But where is the UK’s Apple? We can bring Apple here but we want to build our own one. It’s about bringing people people together in communites that can work together and science parks have a role to play in that.”