Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:52 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South 5:52 pm, 23rd March 2021

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend James Sunderland. We have heard about Bracknell; I will tell the House about the wonders of Warrington.

We in the UK have a proud history of scientific excellence and innovation. From the early theorists, such as Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, to the major scientific discoveries of hydrogen by Henry Cavendish and penicillin by Alexander Fleming, and of course Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine, we have made huge contributions to science both past and present, so I warmly welcome the plans that the Secretary of State set out today to support and encourage our next generation of pioneering inventors and innovators, backed by this new independent research funder.

By funding high-risk, high-reward scientific research, ARIA will give visionary scientists the support and freedom to identify and fund transformational science and technology at speed. Our brilliant scientists have led the way in the development of the coronavirus vaccine and our high-risk strategy has shown the world what can be achieved when academia and private and public investment are brought together. ARIA will allow the UK to make good on its Government’s ambitions as a global scientific superpower and allow us to contribute to Build Back Better through innovation. The agency will be able to operate flexibly and quickly, better supporting the UK’s most pioneering researchers and, importantly, avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy. By stripping back the red tape and putting power in the hands of innovators, ARIA will drive forward the technologies of tomorrow. While there is definitely space in the UK’s research landscape for a new funding agency that supports that sort of risk and investment, it should be designed in a way that complements the wider system of funding streams that already exist. Will the Minister set out clearly how the new agency will complement the existing bodies?

I want to see funding distributed across our prime science capabilities in the north of England. The Daresbury laboratory sits on my constituency doorstep, so towns such as Warrington, perfectly located midway between the two great northern cities of Liverpool and Manchester, could really benefit from such investment, allowing the high-tech sectors that develop there to be rocket-powered. I am sure that Mike Amesbury will not mind my plugging the opportunities further to bolster the Daresbury campus, which is recognised as the north’s centre of excellence for innovation in high-tech business from start-ups to multinationals across all kinds of sectors and research disciplines, including the growth challenge areas of healthcare, energy, environment and security.

As the Minister will know, the Cockcroft Institute and its particle accelerator research already has a home at Daresbury, and I know there are spaces there for a few more new ideas. Warrington is also well known as the research centre for the nuclear sector, and building on that campus at Daresbury and encouraging collaboration between the brightest minds and those that are already in the north-west means we have an opportunity to level up through the programme. Life sciences make up an integral part of the north’s economic ecosystem, generating £7.5 billion annually for UK, but the north has historically been underfunded for research and ARIA offers a great opportunity to narrow that divide.

A report published just last week shows that in the past 10 years, 72% of additional jobs created in the 10 most R&D intensive industries were located in the regions covering London, Oxford and Cambridge, despite those regions containing only 20% of the population. In 2018, London and the south-east received almost 50% of Government and UKRI’s total R&D spending. The Nesta report estimates that the regions outside London and the south-east have missed out on Government R&D funding of about £4 billion each year, which could have leveraged a further £8 billion from the private sector.

For ARIA to achieve its transformational change, it must work closely with industry partners. The north-west of England receives private investment in R&D at three times the rate of public investment. Industry recognises the opportunity available in my region, and ARIA is an opportunity to add extra drive and open up more opportunities in constituencies such as Warrington, where jobs and livelihoods are already supported and sustained by the thriving Cheshire life science corridor. We are already seeing northern universities collaborate through the Northern Health Science Alliance, N8 and the introduction of Northern Gritstone. We just need to give them the financial backing and the freedom to make this happen. I very much welcome the plans set out today and look forward to supporting the Bill later.