British businesses back Labour on innovation, research reveals

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News & Press
March 5, 2024

London, 5th March 2024: UK businesses believe Labour will have a positive impact on UK innovation, according to research based on a survey of over 600 business, finance and innovation leaders from innovation funding consultancy, Ayming UK.

Ayming’s UK Innovation Barometer 2024 reveals that 79% think a Labour Government will have a positive impact on UK innovation. Less than 5% expect the impact to be negative.

Despite being a priority for several successive Governments, the UK’s R&D landscape has suffered some setbacks over the last few years. The UK’s membership of the EU’s cutting-edge Horizon programme, which provides both funding and access to important collaborations, was collateral damage following Brexit – and whilst the UK has now rejoined the programme, the damage to public confidence in it as a source of funding has been done.

In addition, there are ongoing problems with the UK’s innovation funding, specifically with the R&D tax credit scheme. HMRC has pursued an aggressive compliance programme in reaction to cases of fraud in the R&D schemes, causing friction with some businesses.

According to Ayming’s research, 23% of firms have recently had payments from HMRC delayed. In addition, 25% say their recent experiences with HMRC has put them off from claiming R&D tax credits. This is particularly problematic considering R&D tax credits are the most popular source of innovation funding, used by 28% of UK firms surveyed.

Benjamin Craig, Associate Director – R&D Tax Credits, at Ayming UK, says, “This should serve as a wakeup call. It’s all well and good saying R&D is a priority, but businesses clearly haven’t felt supported and the Government’s track record on innovation isn’t exactly gleaming. There’s a real opportunity for Labour here if they can put forward a vision. What is the plan for the next 10 or 20 years? How can they solve some of the ongoing challenges and really supercharge business innovation? Innovation is central to economic development and therefore should be a priority for any government, regardless of party.”

HMRC’s excessive pushback on claims has also caused confusion around eligibility, with 18% saying they will not be claiming because they are no longer sure what is eligible. But this confusion is on track to escalate due to the lack of awareness about upcoming reforms. As of April 2024, the Government is merging the SME scheme with the RDEC scheme and reducing the rates of relief for SME claimants from 130% to 86%, with a further reduction in the payable credit rate for most SMEs from 14% to 10%. That means the cash benefit for these companies has nearly halved.

However, the research shows widespread lack of awareness and understanding about the reforms. 58% of businesses are unaware of the reforms while 22% say they are aware of the reforms but are not sure how they will impact their business.

Craig continues, “This confusion is a big risk. It means people will either disengage with the scheme or may submit applications that are inaccurate, increasing the number of faulty claims that has caused HMRC so many problems. HMRC must work with firms to build their understanding of changes to the rules. If they don’t, we will inevitably see further problems with the R&D schemes in the coming months if not years.”

Almost exactly a year ago, the Government unveiled its latest plan to make Britain a ‘Science Superpower’ – the Science and Technology Framework. But businesses have yet to see this policy translated into positive impact on innovation. Similarly, the last detailed Innovation Strategy was published in 2021 and since then there have been two changes of Government, five different ministers responsible for innovation, and the department that published the initial strategy has been disbanded as part of reforms.

In particular, the Government needs to address the need for STEM talent. Innovation depends on people and, with R&D growing in complexity, businesses often need to look externally for specialist skills and talent. Many companies import R&D talent and the Government has introduced a “highly skilled” visa, which 20% of companies have used to hire people from overseas in their R&D team. However, the UK needs to develop homegrown STEM talent, which is the action businesses are most likely to view as ‘critical’ to improving the UK’s R&D landscape, at 26%.

Njy Rios, Director – R&D Incentives at Ayming UK, says, “Importing talent is a short-term fix to a long-term problem. The need for homegrown STEM is well known. We need to introduce initiatives to encourage children into STEM fields now in order to reap the benefits when people finish studying. But policies like this are often too forward-thinking for those in Government, who tend to think in 5-year election cycles rather than the longer term.”

The overall problems with the UK’s R&D landscape are leading to widespread offshoring of R&D activity. According to the research, UK firms are now more likely to innovate abroad than in the UK, with 79% of businesses doing R&D activity abroad this year compared to 57% in the UK.

The most popular country for offshoring is the USA, with 11% of companies carrying out R&D there. This is followed by Australia and Poland at 9% and 8% respectively. However, 57% of firms doing activity in a European country, meaning Europe is by far the most popular destination for UK R&D when taken as a bloc.

Large companies are much less likely to innovate in the UK. Whereas the findings for innovating abroad are relatively similar, only 33% of large businesses are innovating in the UK compared to 69% of SMEs.

Mark Smith, Managing Partner at Ayming UK, says, “Offshoring R&D is nothing new; and it’s often necessary. But finding a way to encourage businesses to conduct R&D domestically is essential if the UK is ever going to credibly rival its international competitors. Despite being a major policy focus for successive governments, today the UK’s aspiration of becoming a Science Superpower remains a pipe dream. And until businesses see policy translate into progress, unwanted offshoring will continue to stall these ambitions whilst UK innovation flounders.

For more information, the report can be downloaded.

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Notes to editors: 

About Ayming

Ayming, the international innovation and performance consultancy, combines highly specialised knowledge – across a range of fields – with hands-on collaboration to enable our clients and their people to go further.

We are 1300 employees operating in 15 countries across Europe, North America, and Asia. We have a proven track record of providing leadership and sharing insight for over 30 years. By focusing on innovation, finance and people, Ayming consistently delivers a strong return on investment.

About the research

Between 12th and 18th December 2023, Ayming conducted a survey of 603 senior innovation, finance, and CEOs/MDs in the UK. Survey respondents are all at CXO, director or head of department level. There were 397 SME respondents and 206 from large businesses. Those surveyed span across 6 sectors: manufacturing, IT and technology, construction & civil engineering, life sciences & pharmaceuticals, food & beverage, financial services and fintech. The splits between the sectors are all equal.