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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
UK research 'falling behind'
Graphic BBC
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The amount of scientific and industrial research and development (R&D) being carried out in Britain is below international levels, according to a new government report.

If the UK economy is to thrive, other sectors must grasp the opportunity given by the Chancellor's tax breaks for R&D and invest in research

Dr Peter Cotgreave, Save British Science campaign
Although Britain is very good in the pharmaceuticals, aerospace, and the oil and gas sectors, its spending on R&D effort outside these areas is less than half the international average.

The UK lags behind in research spending on chemicals, software, information technology, electronics and engineering, the report says.

According to Lord Sainsbury, Britain's science minister, "there is still much to be done to ensure that UK companies can develop the new products needed to compete in world markets".

Falling behind

The report, Research and Development Scoreboard, paints a depressing picture. With the exception of drugs and oil, Britain lags well behind the rest of the world in its R&D spending.

The information is gathered from the company reports of 597 of the UK's top companies; 49 of them are quoted in the FTSE index. Data was also collected from 500 international companies that operate in Britain. They have a combined R&D budget of 193bn.

The data reveal that most of the research in the UK is carried out in either the pharmaceutical or aerospace sector. Internationally, it is research into Information Technology hardware and cars that dominates.

Dr Peter Cotgreave, of the Save British Science campaign, said: "A few sectors such as pharmaceuticals and aerospace are committing the resources needed to do the R&D needed to invent the economy of the future.

"However, if the UK economy is to thrive, other sectors must grasp the opportunity given by the Chancellor's tax breaks for R&D and invest in research," he told BBC News Online.

Future profits

In Britain, only 10% of R&D is carried out in electronics, chemicals and engineering - less than the worldwide figure of 17% for these categories.

One area in which Britain does do far more research than is usual in other countries is in food processing and in the oil and gas industry.

The report says that medium-sized companies in Britain carry out less R&D than their international counterparts. In particular, these British firms, on average, carry out less than half the amount of research that a comparable US company would.

Peter Cotgreave said: "I am a young man, but when the UK economy comes to pay my pension in 30 years' time, I want it to have performed at a world-class level, and for that to happen, UK business must invest more in scientific research."

The report also says it is in their own interests that British companies should invest more in R&D, as there is a correlation between R&D investment and profits.

Looking to the future, the report adds that there are promising companies of smaller size, some of which have the potential to grow and succeed in their sectors.

See also:

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