• Ruairi Coyne

'Innovate, Adapt & Overcome, Britain'

Updated: Oct 23

Innovation is key to picking up Britain's sluggish economy

A cursory glance at any form of media will tell you that the UK economy has seen better days. Inflation and fuel prices rates are on the up; historically low interest rates are no more. Indeed, the only constant that seems to have an interminable grip on the country is low consumer confidence. However, before we consign ourselves to a fate of despair and decay, there is one beacon of hope: we are a verifiably innovative country.

The latest Global Innovation Index (GII) has placed the UK fourth in the world for innovation. The report maintains that the UK is particularly strong in creativity, information technology, financial services, and research. You only need to look at the monetary might of the City of London, or the educational strength of the UK’s universities, to understand why this is the case.

The UK possesses its strengths in spite of strong barriers. For instance, alongside Eindhoven, Cambridge is regarded as the most science and technology-intensive cluster in the world despite not having a university-wide start-up incubator or accelerator programme.

The issue then becomes how do we leverage the UK’s strengths into improved economic performance? Some policies are obvious; other policies may be more of a gamble. The clear solution to fostering research in the UK is removing barriers to access. It remains too difficult, especially post-Brexit, for non-British citizens to live and work in the UK. It likewise remains too difficult to secure funding for research that could be the next big cancer drug or treatment for Alzheimer’s. Education and immigration policy must be reformed to open access to research for all, which could be beneficial for the UK economy.

Similarly, easy is maintaining the strength of the UK’s professional services in Canary Wharf and the City. London’s unique position as an English-speaking, Europe-located, and incredibly diverse world city means it would be very difficult to destroy its financial prowess. Difficult, but not impossible. It is, of course, important that the UK’s professional services remain closely monitored by organisations like the FCA, the PRA, and the SRA. Regulation for regulation’s sake, however, or alternatively overlooking practices that pose systemic issues to the wider economy, should be avoided. With businesses across multiple industries beginning to show signs of distress, it is as important as it was during the Great Recession that regulators remain cautious yet supportive of London’s professional service providers.

Less obvious policy solutions could be regarded as measures to change certain British cultural attitudes. It is fair to say that those of us born and raised in the UK could be considered rather pessimistic and cautious. This has the effect of deterring people from taking less-trodden paths in their careers. So, instead of launching that start-up or becoming the musician you have so desperately wanted to become since the age of five, we choose to do what we think offers us the greatest likelihood of financial success and greater stability. It would be ridiculous to say that we don’t need lawyers, doctors, and consultants. However, we need more founders. There is no clearly defined solution to this problem, but positive government rhetoric, supported by substantial funding, could go a long way in ensuring more innovators are able to flourish.

There is hope for the UK economy. But, Britain needs to recognise its economic strengths and use them to its advantage.