Whitehall shake-up to boost tech and trade

Academics, business groups and tech leaders have applauded the UK government's creation of four new civil service departments aimed at boosting growth through trade and innovation.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on Tuesday that, in a major shake-up of Whitehall, a new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology would be created to "help make sure the UK is the most innovative economy in the world". Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan will head the new department.There will also be a combined Department for Business and Trade to promote investment and free trade; a new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero tasked with securing long-term energy supply; and a "re-focused" Department for Culture, Media and Sport to "build on the UK’s position as a global leader in the creative arts".

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Business leaders react positively

On the creation of a joined-up Department for Business and Trade, Marco Forgione, director-general of the Institute of Export & International Trade, said the merger of the current trade and business departments represented an opportunity to better integrate exports within the wider UK growth strategy.Mr Forgione also said he was "delighted" that Kemi Badenoch, the current international trade secretary, would be heading the new department as her appointment would ensure continuity on trade policy and strategy.Stephen Phipson, CEO of the manufacturers’ organisation Make UK, said that the nation's businesses now needed a period of stability and for the four new departments to work together "to create a powerful industrial and energy strategy which delivers a long-term and consistent plan to boost growth and help Britain’s world-class manufacturers compete more effectively on the global stage".He added: “The continued emphasis on science and innovation demonstrates the government’s commitment to ensuring the UK remains a science super-power, but it is critical that we continue the scale-up of innovation within Britain’s businesses to boost growth and tackle the UK’s longstanding issues with under-investment and productivity."Now the new secretaries of state must work urgently with business to develop a consistent industrial strategy to ensure buy-in from all government departments and one which is understood to be a priority at national and regional level.”  

Academics also welcome the new department

Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group of 24 public research universities, said: “The decision to create a dedicated department for science, innovation and technology recognises the value of our sector and its importance to growing the economy, creating jobs and solving major challenges such as energy security, inequalities and net zero.”Sir Adrian Smith, president of the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of sciences, described the creation of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology as a "clear signal that research and innovation sit at the heart of the prime minister’s productivity and growth agenda".He said: “The Royal Society has long called for such a Cabinet-level position. Michelle Donelan’s first job must be to secure association to Horizon Europe and other EU science programmes.“These schemes support outstanding international collaboration and without being part of them we are undermining the Prime Minister’s stated ambition for the UK to be at the forefront of science and technology globally.”

Technology and innovation leaders back the strategy

Russ Shaw, chief of Tech London Advocates – an organisation of tech leaders, experts and investors – said that a clearer focus on technology and innovation from the top down could only be good for the UK’s thriving tech sector."It’s important this departmental focus is now complimented with other aspects that will help grow the industry – including cooperation with international tech hubs, progressive regulatory regimes and open channels to access talent from abroad,” he said.Mr Shaw added that the creation of the department was a “gear change that shows the prime minister is looking to go beyond the rhetoric and ambition we’ve seen set out to date and more clearly commit government resource and personnel to growing this part of the economy".Tom Grinyer, chief executive of the Institute of Physics, agreed that the creation of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology put science and innovation "exactly where they should be – right at the heart of government".He said: “We are entering an exciting new era powered by science, engineering and technology at a time when there are great opportunities and important choices facing the country.”

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