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Why fast-tracking scientists’ entry to the UK is good for business

11 February 2020: the government’s announcement that there will be a boost for UK science with the offer of unlimited visas to the world's top scientists seems, at first sight, to be tangential to business. But this is why it could be a shot in the arm. Jo Murray reports.

  1. Investment in talent underpins all economic development. For the UK biotech, pharma, medical devices, aerospace, specialist materials and tech sectors to compete internationally, we have to build our own pipeline of talent, but we also need to be a honeypot for talent internationally.
  2. This announcement reinforces the message that the UK is open for business in the post-Brexit environment. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, says: “As we leave the EU I want to send a message that the UK is open to the most talented minds in the world, and stand ready to support them to turn their ideas into reality.”
  3. It will help keep talent in the UK, thereby heading off a much-feared brain drain. The more robust our science and technology sectors are, the more likely they are to generate indigenous employment through economic growth. Rosalia Wood, Regional Industrial Strategy Manager, says: “Access to the greatest minds in the world is crucial to our economy at a time of distinct business uncertainty and low productivity growth. The benefits of a talent pipeline such as this will be amplified across the economy if we can harness the output of such talent for the good of society through business.”
  4. It will support our academic and research organisations that drive the intellectual property on which the UK’s science and research-oriented sectors are based. For the last couple of decades, the number of patents held by a company has become a leading metric of company success, its attractiveness to investors and its potential for partnering in future-facing business opportunities.
  5. To keep the UK’s reputation as an innovator intact, the government acting in this way will enhance the UK’s brand as a force to be reckoned with in the foreign direct investment stakes. International companies considering their next overseas expansion will likely put the UK high on the agenda if they are looking for an innovative environment.
  6. The UK needs help with its biggest challenges: decarbonisation, crime prevention, safer air travel, smarter phone technology, the use of artificial intelligence, and creating greener energy systems, to name but a few. The solutions will create opportunities for UK businesses.
  7. The Northern Powerhouse will probably benefit in particular, and there will be more levelling up across the UK. An ambitious "Place Strategy" for UK research and development will be published in the summer to ensure funding builds on the strengths of the regions. And the government will examine how the UK’s Catapult centres can strengthen research and development capacity in local areas – helping to rebalance the UK economy.

ICAEW’s consultation on the skills gaps across the UK is underway – for more information, contact Rosalia Wood at rosalia.wood@icaew.com