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Supporting Innovation

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

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The Conservative amendment urges the Scottish Government to work with the UK Government’s industrial strategy, and, in the absence of a Scottish strategy, we cannot argue with that. However, Scottish Labour would have a Scottish industrial strategy to guide policy making, which would recognise the different socioeconomic challenges and the need for faster sustainable economic growth, because Scotland lags behind the rest of the UK.

Currently, Scotland’s productivity is ranked in 16th place in comparison with 37 OECD countries—a place where it has languished since this Government took power in 2007. Catching up with our competitors would, therefore, require a significant and transformational increase in Scotland’s rate of productivity. Manufacturing continues to disproportionately drive innovation, investment and international exports. Sadly, research and development is still heavily concentrated in too few companies, many of which are overseas owned. By some measures, Scotland’s innovation performance is improving, which is to be welcomed. However, by many other innovation indicators, our performance is still being outstripped by that of other countries.

In contrast, our universities are at the forefront of innovation. Scotland’s higher education expenditure on research and development as a percentage of GDP is the only area in which we rank well. Scotland is seventh among the OECD countries—in the first quartile—and above the UK average. I visited the Roslin institute and was really impressed by its research and support for innovation. However, there is a disconnect between academic innovation and industrial application in Scotland. All too often, those development opportunities go overseas. We need to strengthen links between higher education and the business base. There is obvious potential to improve industrial interaction with higher education. The Roslin institute has an incubator unit for small innovative businesses that are doing their bit to keep those developments in Scotland. The Government needs to support that, and to create the right environment for home-grown business to survive and flourish in Scottish ownership.

Yesterday, the Royal Society of Edinburgh published an independent review of its enterprise fellowship scheme, which made for interesting reading and provided lessons to be learned. However, it stated that the impact of the fellowship is £52.6 million GVA, and that it creates 949 jobs in Scotland each year.

The previous Labour Government set up catapult innovation centres, which have successfully promoted innovation in industry. Those centres aimed to catapult innovation, research and development from higher education into commercial realisation and mass production. That is a proven model to drive greater collaboration between industry and academia.

Burntisland Fabrications is a prime example of where innovative jobs have been lost as a result of the Scottish National Party lacking an industrial strategy. BiFab had the opportunity to secure work that was based in floating offshore wind—a next-generation technology—which would have put Scotland at the forefront of an emerging industry.

Scotland cannot afford to continue to miss out on such lucrative opportunities. Procurement and planning practices require significant improvements if Scotland is ever to act as a catalyst for business innovation.

There must be an industrial strategy at the heart of Government in Scotland that drives innovation and strong economic development, delivers jobs, secures new technologies and advances our position on the global map.

We believe—