Department response to SBRI inconsistent, new report says

The department response to the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) has been inconsistent, despite the initiatives potential to help government rebalance the economy by harnessing new technology and creative individuals, said the Centre for Business Research (CBR) at the University of Cambridge in a report published yesterday.

By Sarah.Aston

25 Nov 2014

Introduced in 2004 and re-launched in 2009 by Innovate UK, the SBRI is an initiative that provides funding for the development of new technologies and products in an attempt to create new markets, innovative solutions and boost R&D in the UK.

However, according to the CBR report, ‘Creating markets for things that don’t exist’, investment in the SBRI programme is not consistent across departments and this is undermining the UK’s ability to rebalance the economy and develop new R&D businesses.

In 2013, the government committed £200m a year to the SBRI and by March 2014 around 1,700 SBRI contracts worth £189m had been awarded to companies but the report said that the initial success masks the inconsistent approach to the programme across departments.

The report praised the Department of Health for its “active” participation in the SBRI programme but said: “Implementation has been fraught with difficulties, and major departments, including the Ministry of Defence, and the Department of Transport, are still not participating in any real sense.”

Other departments including the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs have also not invested or participated enough to meet the spending commitment, the report stated.

“Lack of participation by key departments and low levels of funding in others mean that significant new steps will be needed if the Chancellor’s spending commitments are to be realised,” concluded CBR.

“To ensure that annual SBRI spending reaches the £200m figure to which the Treasury has committed, it must identify specific departmental SBRI budgets and make it clear that this component of their overall budget is non-transferrable,” the report recommended.

A spokesman for Innovate UK said: “We will continue to support the expansion of SBRI and expect to see it further grow this year (notwithstanding continued financial pressure on departmental budgets).”

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