“If Wales is to improve its innovation performance over time, then we must ensure that the sum of the parts – government, industry and academia – is greater than the whole”.
It is critical to encourage innovation so that the amount of R&D undertaken in Wales increases substantially. Welsh Higher Education Institutes have a key role to play here and WAG funding must incentivise the commercialisation of knowledge, whilst maximising the potential linkages between academia and industry.
Recent research shows that investments in innovation accounted for between two-thirds and three-quarters of labour productivity growth in OECD countries such as Austria, Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States between 1995 and 2006. Innovation was the main driver of growth. A lack of innovation – characterised by low levels of investment in knowledge, such as skills, research and development, and technology - has been identified as a major barrier restricting the growth of the economy. In Wales, which has a higher dependency than most of the UK regions on universities for its R&D, there remains a disconnect between the key innovation actors in government, industry and academia. Many operate in silos rather than as an efficient innovation system that effectively transfers knowledge from the laboratory to the marketplace and then provides the necessary resources and support to fully exploit that knowledge. As a result, there needs to be a greater effort in ensuring that programmes focus on building both research capacity in both the academic and private sectors whilst enabling better relationships between the universities and industry. This is a role that government can contribute to and, more importantly, stimulate and enhance.
The Way Forward
If the future Googles, Yahoos and YouTubes of the future are to emerge in Wales over the next decade, then there must be a different approach to supporting innovation and not just repeating the same policy initiatives that have largely failed. In particular, government needs to ensure that all the key actors work more closely together as part of an innovation system and not operate in isolation or, even worse, in competition. If Wales is to improve its innovation performance over time, then we must ensure that the sum of the parts – government, industry and academia – is greater than the whole. Therefore, the Welsh Conservatives should look to establish a Welsh regional innovation system, which will be directed under a separate private sector led Innovation Council for Wales.