From Brighton to Aberdeen, the BIA policy and public affairs team have been travelling the country to represent the life science industry at the party conferences – here is a quick roundup up of the highlights from each of the events:
Liberal Democrats – Bournemouth
NHS Infrastructure: At the Health Spokespersons’ Q&A session, Norman Lamb MP said the NHS needs up-front investment now in order to meet the challenges of the near future, and responded enthusiastically to the suggestion that updating NHS infrastructure in line with digitalisation, big data and self-monitoring technologies will lead overall to better patient health and efficiency savings.
EU referendum: Former party leader Nick Clegg MP and new leader Tim Farron MP were clear about the party’s line on remaining in the EU and that the referendum is ‘far too important for ambivalence’; a topic that was discussed at length in relation to UK science, by a panel and audience of scientists and engineers at a Science Council fringe event.
Financing: At a session focused on effective financing for company development – with Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Economics Baroness Kramer, the British Venture Capital Association and the London Stock Exchange – the UK life sciences industry was mentioned several times in the context of scaling up ‘hard tech’ businesses. Circassia in particular was mentioned as a public listing that has helped to give the confidence to other company ‘peers’ to grow and invest in the UK, and sparked interest in UK biotech amongst specialist and cross-over investors.
Conservatives – Manchester
Spending Review and the Biomedical Catalyst: We held a successful event with our Life Science UK partners (the ABPI, ABHI and BIVDA) alongside the AMRC. Discussions at the Conference underlined the vulnerability our sector still faces ahead of a tough Spending Review. Accordingly we have reached out to CEOs of our corporate members to make the business case directly to the Chancellor and the Business Secretary regarding the importance of continued support for science and research, as well as for innovation policy funding which supports several initiatives including the Biomedical Catalyst. Thanks to those of you who have now already written in to the Government – letters direct from the companies operating in the UK ecosystem have a real impact on Ministers that shouldn’t be underestimated. To find out more about how you can help please contact Zoe Freeman at the BIA.
Labour – Brighton
R&D and innovation: The Labour party conference was busy with delegates, despite the notable absence of several Labour MPs. With the new Shadow Ministers having been in position for less than two weeks, most of the fringe events focused on fairly broad topics rather than drilling down into much policy detail. However, in her speech at the conference, new Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Angela Eagle MP said that “to win this race, we need to support R&D and innovation which can create the industries of tomorrow. We need to support small business. We need to ensure that business finance is available to exploit the pioneering scientific innovations we are so good at producing in this country. And then we need to convert these innovations into the next generation of world beating companies”. This sounds like a promising start and we await further details of evolving Labour policy.
Industry partnerships: BIA CEO Steve Bates chaired a roundtable event with Life Sciences UK and the AMRC, at which we had a full table of representatives from UK life science business, charities, the local Academic Health Science Network, Brighton and Sussex University Hospital, NHS Providers and learned societies. We were delighted to be joined by Lord Hunt OBE and Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge and member of the Science & Technology Select Committee. Attendees heard about partnerships between different types of organisations that are achieving great results, such as Ataxia UK’s new collaborative drug discovery programme with Pfizer, and Oxford Immunotec’s partnership with the Wolverhampton Refugee and Migrant Centre to tackle tuberculosis in hard-to-engage populations. Lord Hunt was enthusiastic to follow up with this conversation after the publication of the Government’s Accelerated Access Review – it’s great to have his support and active engagement to progress this area.
SNP – Aberdeen
Fiscal powers: The main issue we have been tracking in relation to devolution to Scotland and SNP policy has been fiscal powers. In his speech to Conference, Deputy First Minister and Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Economy, John Swinney MSP announced that from 31 October, all Scottish councils will have the power to reduce business rates in their local area, whilst also underlining the SNP’s objective of ensuring as much financial autonomy from April 2017 as possible through their ongoing negotiation with Westminster on the Scotland Bill.