Small firms could benefit from new research focus


By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Research

Small firms could benefit from new research focus

Small UK food and drink manufacturers could benefit from government plans to refocus its research spending on areas more likely to produce a commercial return on investment.

While eminent UK scientists, including president of the Royal Society Lord Rees, have registered concerns about potential cuts to some pure research programmes in this month's spending review, business secretary Vince Cable has given a strong indication that the coalition wants to concentrate spending in those areas with clearer benefits to the nation.

Speaking at the University of London last month, Cable said: "I support, of course, 'blue skies' research, but there is no justification for taxpayers' money being used to support research that is neither commercially useful nor theoretically outstanding."

Cable added: "The key is to find ways of transforming research into innovation. The UK has a strong record but we need to do more. This involves building stronger links between the UK's science and research base and the business community; to create more spin-out companies; and to provide a magnet for attracting overseas investors to the UK."

He cited programmes such as the Small Business Research Initiative, managed by the Technology Strategy Board, as an example of driving innovation. "I am committed to making greater use of this programme to facilitate economic growth and innovation," he said.

Pete Moores, head of sales and marketing at the Food Processing Faraday, an independent provider of services that helps the food supply chain take commercial advantage of research ideas, said: "The Faraday recognises the significance of high-quality research but stresses the importance of commercialising good science into applications for industry."

While large companies such as Coca-Cola Enterprise and Kraft are less dependent on public research funding and more concerned about consistency of regulation to encourage investment (see p27), it is recognised that small UK food and drink firms need to improve efficiency and become more sustainable in the face of international competition.

Moores added: "At this time of increased global competition, it is vital that the UK builds on the excellent research undertaken in academia and the Faraday welcomes any initiatives from the coalition government that help the UK industry make the most use of this science. Furthermore, we feel that cuts in this science budget at this time will impede the UK's ability to compete internationally."