Innovation needed to catapult UK to technology success

Catapult centre

The government must scale up the UK’s new programme of technology and innovation centres – Catapults – by 50% to 100%, the Big Innovation Centre will announce at a meeting at the House of Lords today. Will Hutton, chair of the Big Innovation Centre at the Work Foundation warned: “Catapults are desperately needed and important new institutions that could allow the UK to reproduce German success in 21st century industrial sectors and services. Yet the Catapult programme needs to be bigger and bolder in its scope, aims and resources if their potential as convenors, catalysts, risk-mitigators and horizon scanners is to be fully exploited.”

Technology and innovation centres were first proposed by the entrepreneur Hermann Hauser in a report for Government “The Current and Future Role of Technology and Innovation Centres in the UK” and by Sir James Dyson in his “Ingenious Britain” report.

Catapult to success: Be ambitious, bold and enterprising, carried out by the Big Innovation Centre with support from the Technology Strategy Board, the Institution for Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), has drawn on an extensive independent analysis of similar centres across eight European countries. It shows how the German Fraunhofer Institutes, the French Carnot centres, the Danish Advanced Technology Group GTS centres and similar initiatives in other European countries and beyond contribute to and deliver their national policy for growth.

The research sets out clear recommendations for the funding of Catapults to ensure they have the resources they need to succeed, and advises:

  • UK Catapult centres must be global players and should aim for at least 20% of their total revenue to come from international operations (commercial and public).
  • They should aim for small and medium sized firms located in the UK to account for at least half of the commercial activity.
  • Commercial income from businesses should account for at least half of the centres’ total income, increasing over time.

Professor Birgitte Andersen, author of the report and director of the Big Innovation Centre, said, “This is a major chance for the UK. Having had the imagination to establish these centres, the government must now be no less bold, ambitious and enterprising in following through. This programme is a crucial plank of the UK’s innovation policy, but without the necessary resources, this much needed opportunity will be wasted.”