“Science is a personal priority of mine” George Osborne, Autumn Statement speech, 5 December

The Chancellor delivered his Autumn Statement yesterday in the House of Commons. It has been described by various commentators as a “steady as she goes” type statement with the Chancellor pressing the case for continued economic vigilance. There were not many headline announcements for the life science sector but we have picked out some of the interesting points of direct or indirect relevance which present an opportunity for BIA representations on behalf of the sector over the next period of time. For those who want to read all the relevant documents you can find them on the HM Treasury website.

Science and Innovation Strategy
The government have committed to producing a “Science and Innovation Strategy for Autumn Statement 2014”.

This is designed to provide a longer-term approach to science and innovation and will be welcomed by the science community. It will provide a useful platform for the BIA and others to outline the key long term needs of UK bioscience companies. The manifesto process the BIA is working on with members and other organisations will clearly play a key part in developing our representations.

Retail participation in capital markets
The statement said: “Retail participation in capital markets: public equity markets – the government will publish a discussion paper on enhancing equity financing in the UK, including options to improve access to public equity markets for UK businesses and retail investors”.

A large number of BIA members have raised the importance of achieving a viable and sustainable public market in the UK for bioscience companies and working with members we are already reaching out to the City and other stakeholders to effect this. This government commitment provides an opportunity for us to further emphasise the needs of bioscience companies and, also, outline our thoughts on how retail investors might be afforded a chance to back innovation – through our proposals for Citizens’ Innovation Funds for example.

A few notable commitments of relevance to life science companies:

  • Higher Apprenticeships – the government will provide an additional contribution of £40 million to deliver an additional 20,000 higher apprenticeships starts in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years
  • Extra STEM funding for higher education institutions – the government will provide extra funding for the teaching of STEM subjects of £50 million per academic year
  • The government will remove controls on the number of students who can attend higher education institutions in 2015-16. In 2014-15 an additional 30,000 student places will be created at publicly-funded institutions.

These measures have been welcomed by the science community. In particular, the BIA is keen to hear views on the use of apprenticeships in the sector.

Tax framework and funding support
Quite a quiet autumn statement as far as this topic is concerned, especially as compared to previous years. In the documentation the government does highlight the Patent Box and R&D tax credits as measures which they are using to support companies in the UK.

The Patent Box in particular is coming under scrutiny from the European Commission who claim it is contrary to EU State Aid rules. We hope the policy will be robustly defended by government so that it can fulfill its potential in encouraging research and innovation in the UK.