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Supporting Innovation

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

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Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

It has been an interesting debate, and a lot of very valuable points have been raised. I will run through some of the contributions.

I thank Alexander Burnett for his recognition of the value of the Scottish Government’s innovation centres. I, too, have visited all of them, and have seen their great work.

Alex Cole-Hamilton gave a name check to the robotarium, a fabulous innovation that is happening between Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt universities. He also talked about climate change, which is an issue that came up in a number of contributions. It is important to recognise the leading position that Scotland holds globally in off-shore wind development and hydrogen, in tidal and wave, as mentioned by Jamie Halcro Johnston, and in decommissioning, as referred to by Gillian Martin. There is a lot going on in renewable energy, in which, I know from international trips that I have made, that Scotland is recognised globally as being at the leading edge of innovation.

Gillian Martin also mentioned the Oil & Gas Technology Centre, and it is worth pointing out that an increasing amount of the activity there is focused on renewables.

In the context of skills, it is also worth mentioning that the just transition commission and the national youth training partnership, which were raised by Alex Cole-Hamilton and Gillian Martin, are working on the transition of the workforce to the technologies of the future.

I am grateful to Kenny Gibson for reminding us of Ayrshire’s central role in global innovation, because it is always good to remember that. I thank Emma Harper for namechecking York Technology. I was delighted to help in that case and, if Ms Harper wants to introduce me to any other SMEs, I shall do my best to put them in touch with potential outlets for their products.

There was a lot of value in some of the things that Daniel Johnson said, and certainly food for thought. It is worth pointing out that Nesta now has a base in Scotland and that we work closely with it through the innovation forum, which I chair. Nesta makes a valuable input to the ecosystem in Scotland.

The Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board, rather than being another player in that space, has the role of co-ordinating work between Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council and other agencies to ensure that there is co-ordination across the work on innovation and other aspects of the enterprise and skills area. The board is undertaking a significant piece of work in collaboration with the innovation forum to identify opportunities to streamline and make more effective the innovation landscape in Scotland. Daniel Johnson can rest assured that there is absolutely no complacency. We clearly identify the challenges that are in front of us and work to address them.

Mr Johnson also raised a valuable point about public sector innovation. I am keen on pushing that and I am working hard to get it further up the agenda. Mr Johnson is absolutely right that the public sector can set an example through innovating in order to streamline and make its processes more effective, which makes it much easier to sell innovation across the rest of the economy.

Brian Whittle talked about innovation versus invention. We recognise innovation as being broad and including not just product innovation but innovation in services and processes, and we continually strive for that.

On Mr Whittle’s point about investment, what we might call the valley of death between start-up investment and large-scale investment later down the track affects economies and businesses globally. We recognise the issue, and the Scottish national investment bank will have a focus on leveraging additional private sector funding to support SMEs as they transition through that challenging time in their growth. We are focused on understanding how we can best support that through the SNIB and other activities.

On Mr Whittle’s point about healthcare innovation, as a co-chair of the Life Sciences Scotland industry leadership group, I continually see the issue, and I am keen to simplify the process so that life sciences businesses have routes into the health sector in Scotland to allow them to use that as a platform to develop and globalise their innovations. I am working closely with health ministers to streamline that process.

At the moment, we are going through a process of mapping everything in the whole ecosystem. It is important to recognise that there is clutter. Some things are done with good intentions, but there is a requirement to understand how we can simplify and to evaluate the impact of current measures and ensure that they are focused on delivering for businesses.

I thank Stewart Stevenson for his brief tour of the 16th and 17th centuries and his point about the importance of differentiating between outputs and inputs.

I will comment quickly on the issues that were raised by the Labour front-bench members, who, in contrast to Daniel Johnson, did not seem to appreciate the breadth of the innovation process and the activities that are going on. I hear Labour members speaking all the time about Labour’s industrial strategy—frankly, that sounds a lot like Labour hiding behind a soundbite, because I think that not even they know what they mean by an industrial strategy. Labour’s Scottish industrial strategy in 2017 proposed making the Scottish Investment Bank the industrial investment bank for Scotland, which we have done through the SNIB. The strategy also proposed devolving powers to communities, which we have done through the city deals, and evaluating the innovation centres, which we have done—we are ramping up phase 2 funding for those. There was also a proposal to integrate the catapults into the manufacturing sector, which we have done through the national manufacturing institute Scotland. Those are just a few examples of the disconnect between Labour’s rhetoric and the reality—frankly, Labour has a lack of understanding of that.

Rhoda Grant talked up the Roslin incubator. The Scottish Government put £10 million into that to get it going. That is the value of the Scottish Government’s investment in supporting the innovation ecosystem in Scotland.

I will touch briefly on the Conservativesamendment to the Scottish Government’s motion. We are keen to work with the UK Government to understand how we might co-operate. Only last week, representatives from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy were here to talk through its 2.4 per cent road map. Scottish Government officials engaged with them on that and one of the shared learning points that BEIS took away was the value of the interface programme in Scotland, which it is looking to roll out across the rest of the UK.

As I have done in the past, I urge Conservative members to recognise that co-operation is a two-way street. I have asked them to support the Scottish Government in achieving Scottish representation on the UK Life Sciences Council and the life sciences industrial strategy implementation board, but nothing has happened and we are still being refused access to those bodies. We have also asked for information on what is happening on the UK Government’s shared prosperity fund, but very little has emerged either on that or on the trade agenda. We are keen to co-operate, but the UK Government is dragging its heels. Therefore I ask Conservative members who are present in the chamber to use whatever influence they might have at UK Government level to help us to make progress.

I will conclude by reflecting that the debate has been interesting and has contained lots of food for thought. The Scottish Government remains hugely focused on what we need to do to evaluate the innovation ecosystem, make it more effective, continually improve it, understand its impact and move towards having a Scotland in which we are not just the consumer of innovations but their inventor and manufacturer.