Brexit Britain will be a “science and technology superpower” by the end of the decade with efforts being boosted by plans to rip up red tape holding research back.
Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan marked the anniversary of her department’s first year with the Daily Express to mark 12 months of “incredible progress”.
“What we’re doing in terms of my department is we’re on a mission to make sure that the UK becomes a science and technology superpower by 2030,” the minister claimed.
She said her new department had defied the naysayers “who said things could not be done” and proven that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has a serious vision for the country.
“Over the last year, we produced a plan for every single one of our critical technologies. We convened the world’s first ever safety summit on AI back in November, and achieved landmark agreements that people said, we wouldn’t be able to get.
“We managed to carve out a bespoke deal [with the EU] on Horizon. And that’s something that Labour said was impossible telling us to take the deal on the table. And yet we got a deal that isn’t just good for our scientists and researchers, but also good for our taxpayer, too.”
While going back into the EU’s Horizon programme had led to concerns from Brexiteers, Ms Donelan insisted that holding out for a bespoke deal to suit Britain meant it was to Britain’s benefit.
But she added that it underlined a dividing line with Labour “who would have just taken the deal on the table” which was “not good for Britain.”
She said: “Horizon is the world’s largest research and development programme and as soon as I got into the post, I listened to the scientific community, universities and academics, businesses, and the message was very clear of the value that it would add if we were able to negotiate Association. But the Opposition urged us to take the deal on the table.”
Ms Donelan also outlined her vision to make it easier for research programmes to start in the UK post leaving the EU with plans to slash red tape.
She said: “At the moment, you’ve got this crazy situation where they have to acquire numerous amounts of letters of support to get funding opportunities that they might not actually get. They also have to do a great deal of paperwork.
“So, breaking that down into two points are also sending a big taskforce and reducing bureaucracy is about injecting common sense, and making sure that we’re backing our researchers and scientists because we’re punching above our weight in this country.”
She noted that the UK already has the world’s largest life science sector and 15 times as many unicorns (companies worth more than £1 billion) than it did in 2010.
She added that her department was “a good example” of Mr Sunak’s government trying to break out of electoral cycles and “make long term decisions” to benefit the country in the future.
The minister was speaking to the Daily Express at Biobank in Greater Manchester, the world’s most comprehensive source of health data used for research around the globe.
She was marking the plans to build a new £75 million centre at Bruntwood SciTech’s Manchester Science Park.
The cutting-edge 131,000 sq ft new building will include laboratory space and a latest-generation robotic freezer that stores and retrieves UK Biobank’s 20 million biological samples four times faster than before, revolutionising the pace of scientific discovery. It is supported by a £127.6m award from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Infrastructure Fund.
Ms Donelan said the centre “is the epitome of Britain punching above its weight and leading in science and technology”.
She added: “What will happen because of this project is that our grandchildren will live longer than our grandparents.”
Highlighting progress on brain imaging, she added: “The results are not just in the long term this is also proving to have results in the short term.”