Science Museum. Copyright Christine Matthews (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Science Museum. Copyright Christine Matthews (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Ed Miliband MP, Ed Balls MP and Chuka Umunna MP were at the Science Museum this week to talk about ‘Inclusive Prosperity’. I went along to discover what Labour’s thinking about business in the UK might mean for the science and innovation policies of any future Labour government. There were a few clear themes on the day:

Evolution and devolution in the UK

Ed Miliband spoke about Labour’s plans for devolution of power from Whitehall to the regions, much of which drew on the Adonis review Mending the Fractured Economy: Smarter state, better jobs published earlier this week. Labour want to give more power in funding decisions and regional growth strategies to local government. This could have implications for how support for science and innovation is structured in the future. At the same time as planning to be a “champion of devolution”, Miliband strongly advocated Scotland remaining part of the UK and the UK remaining part of the European Union, outlining the benefits for the UK of being ‘open’. The business community seemed to support this notion in terms of trade and global markets. A global and open scientific workforce is something we’ve advocated in the past.

Skills for the ‘race to the top’

Labour’s plans for growth in the economy are based on creating high skilled jobs and more routes into them. Miliband talked about every student studying mathematics and English to the age of 18 (not mentioning science specifically) and wants to create more vocational training opportunities and apprenticeships as alternative routes into skilled jobs. This echoes much of what we call for in our recent Vision for science and mathematics education report.

Continuity and confidence

It was encouraging to hear Miliband talk about a stable and secure science budget as fundamental to plans for growth and any future industrial strategy for the UK; The Royal Society has called for a stable ten year investment framework for research, innovation and skills to sit at the heart of industrial strategy and plans for growth. There was also recognition of the need for stability and continuity in Government policies around industry and innovation, indicating that we can expect support for science and innovation from a Labour government not to involve dramatic change suggesting Catapult centres and, at the regional level, reformed Local Enterprise Partnerships may remain.

Countdown to May 2015

With less than one year to the general election in the UK, the parties are starting to frame and develop their positions for their manifestos and election campaigns, so events like this can give us an insight into how their plans are developing. Of course, there is plenty of time for things to change, so we’ll be watching this space closely over the coming months.