UK Is Well-Placed in Global Race for Investment, Tech Minister Says

(Bloomberg) — Britain is well-placed to attract high-growth companies, despite increasing global competition due to interventions such as US President Joe Biden’s massive package of subsidies and tax breaks for green industries, a government minister said.

“The UK’s in a very powerful position,” acting Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Chloe Smith said in an interview ahead of a Treasury announcement for a £650 million ($800 million) package of measures to boost Britain’s life sciences sector. “This is not a subsidy race. This is about using taxpayers’ money to gain even more for taxpayers.”

The extra funding is the latest bid by Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt to spur the UK’s sluggish economic growth, which has been among the weakest in the Group of Seven nations but recently saw an upgraded forecast from the International Monetary Fund. That comes against a backdrop of intensifying competition between countries to secure domestic capacity in sensitive areas such as medical supplies and semiconductors.

“Every country has a different approach,” Smith said of the global context. “Our approach is to build on our strengths and go even further.”

The package includes £121 million to improve commercial clinical trials, an area where the government has received recommendations from James O’Shaughnessy, a former health minister, on how to raise Britain’s standing. The number of patients enrolled in commercial UK trials fell 44% from 2017 to 2022, according to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

UK authorities should set annual targets for increasing trial numbers and aim for a 60-day turnaround in approving them, O’Shaughnessy said in his report Thursday. The government should plan to double the number of people taking part in commercial clinical trials in the next two years, and double that again by 2027, he said.

This is “a very comprehensive, very punchy report,” Kate Bingham, the former head of the UK’s Covid-19 Vaccine Taskforce, said in an interview. The government’s package “is a great start to show intention and I just hope they can follow it through.”

The UK has identified clean energy and electric vehicles as further industries it wants to strengthen. Hunt has said the UK government will set out its full response to Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act by the autumn, amid concerns investment that would otherwise flow to Britain will be diverted across the Atlantic. The chancellor is also working on a so-called advanced manufacturing plan. 

The question of how welcoming Britain is for businesses has come into focus in recent months, amid complaints about the impact of post-Brexit rules on car-makers and a series of high-profile firms choosing to list in New York rather than London.

Britain is “absolutely open for business in really high-value science and technology industries,” Smith said, citing the case of Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd., a DNA-sequencing company that made one of the UK’s best-ever market debuts in 2021. “The answer lies in having looked at regulation, financing, different ways we can support that sector.”  

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