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What’s Onward This Week

Another week, another interest rate rise. Some good news for the Government was tucked away in the Bank of England’s announcement – analysts expect inflation to hit 5% by the end of the year, meaning the PM will meet the first of his five pledges. The Bank’s prediction of 0.2% GDP growth in the near term also means that technically the second pledge to grow the economy will be met. But a fifth of a percentage point is not much to celebrate.

Part of breaking out of this low-growth trap is getting the basics right: building houses, generating cheaper energy, retraining and upskilling workers. But the Government also needs to make big bets. In a new paper this week we argue for a rewiring of Whitehall so that it’s better prepared for an era where science and tech are core government business. The Treasury’s penny-pinching mindset has been helpful in taming inflation, but it mustn’t hold back the decisive action needed to boost economic growth.

✍️ Research

On Wednesday, Onward published the latest paper in our science and technology programme Wired for Success. Despite the creation six months ago of a focussed Science Department, our report finds that Whitehall is still off the pace. The Government must go further.

Our report highlights several areas where Whitehall needs to pick up the pace. The UK still falls outside the top 10 OECD countries for the proportion of GDP spent on R&D. Treasury bureaucracy is holding up major DSIT projects like the procurement of a £900 million exascale computer. In Oxford and Cambridge alone the lab space deficit is nearing 2 million square feet. And despite the commitment to meet monthly, the National Science and Technology Committee has only met sporadically since the start of 2023.

To tackle this the report recommends a raft of reforms, including setting an ambitious new headline R&D target of 3.5% of GDP by 2035, exempting the Science Department from lengthy Treasury spending controls, designating research labs as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects , and moving responsibility for universities out of the Education Department and into DSIT.

You can read the full report here.

📰 Media Mentions

Wired For Success, our new report on releasing Britain’s science superpower potential, has been covered in The Telegraph, Times Higher Education and Research Professional News. Head of Science and Technology Allan Nixon wrote on the report for ConservativeHome. Anastasia Bektimirova, Science and Technology Researcher, wrote for Research Professional News on why universities belong with DSIT. 

Sebastian Payne, Director, wrote for the i on why being a science superpower is reliant on Britain becoming a “nation of nerds”. He also spoke on LBC’s Cross Questions

Deputy Director Adam Hawksbee wrote for City AM on the future of Britain’s towns, and spoke to the i on the economic challenges facing the Government. He also spoke with Katy Balls on Spectator TV about Britain’s new policing plan to investigate every crime. 

Jack Richardson, Head of Energy and Net Zero, was quoted in Politico and BBC about why the Government must not drop its strong commitments to green energy, and EnergyPortal.EU on the public support for net zero targets. 

Our previous report on high street compulsory rental auctions – Street Bids – was referenced in The Times, in response to Michael Gove’s new plan for housing. 

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer’s speech for Onward last month is referenced in DCMS’s press release on plans to transform youth centres. You can find the Culture Secretary’s speech from our event here.

🌐 Onward Online

Allan Nixon, Head of Science and Technology, on how to get Whitehall science-superpower-ready. 

Anastasia Bektimirova, Researcher in the Science and Tech team, discusses how transferring responsibility for universities to DSIT would realise their full innovation potential.  

Head of Energy and Net Zero, Jack Richardson, on the Winser Review’s recommendations about benefits for those living near new energy infrastructure.

🗓️ Upcoming Events

We’ve partnered with the CogX Festival! 

CogX Festival announces its iconic new venue – The O2 Arena – and expansion to three Summits, and a huge Expo to address the question:  “How do we get the next 10 years right?”

The DeepTech Summit, Industry Transformation Summit and Global Leadership Summit will welcome 90,000 visitors over 3 days covering over 200 topics, including Generative AI and AI safety, ethics and regulation

To join the CogX Festival 2023 with an additional 30% discount on all Platinum, Gold and Standard passes use 30ONUK23 code on the CogX website . For an Investor pass you will need to apply through the same link using this code 30INVONUK23.

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