Paul Wheelhouse: time to create the future

Scotland has long been a nation of innovators and we want to make sure that we encourage and support that innovative spirit across all of our businesses. Growing the economy is key to the Scottish Government's ambitions for Scotland and we are taking firm action to achieve a more productive, competitive and sustainable economy. Our vision is to establish Scotland as a world-leading, entrepreneurial and innovative nation.

One in which growth and innovation go hand in hand with a commitment towards delivering the benefit of growth to all of society.

Innovation is vital if companies wish to not only survive but to flourish: innovative businesses are more likely to export and be more resilient to changing economic conditions.

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Companies who embrace innovation are amongst the most successful in the world, with the global reach and profits to match. This is no accident.

We believe the four “i”s – investment, innovation, internationalisation and inclusive growth – are key to creating the right environment for businesses and entrepreneurs to flourish.

There are positive signs that our innovation performance is strengthening. In terms of business innovation activity, Scotland is now in the top quartile among European Union countries for innovation active businesses: in 2013, we were in the third quartile so this represents a significant improvement in a short space of time.

We are investing in innovation: in the Programme for Government published at the beginning of September, the First Minister announced our objective to double expenditure by businesses on research and development (R&D) in Scotland from £871 million, in 2015, to £1.75 billion in 2025 – accelerating economic growth through innovation.

As a first step, we are increasing funding to support business R&D by 70 per cent to a total of £45m over the next three years.

This additional funding will be distributed by Scottish Enterprise, in addition to the £22m it currently allocates on business R&D grants each year.

We believe that funding innovation delivers real results – and the figures speak for themselves: for example, an annual £37m grant spend will typically generate business investment of £222m, giving a total investment of £259m.

Through our eight sector-specific Innovation Centres we are supporting ambitious collaborations between businesses, universities and others to capitalise on Scotland’s world-class research.

We are providing substantial strategic funding for research and knowledge exchange: investing up to £120m over six years to 2019.

At the beginning of the year, we published our Innovation Action Plan. It sets out immediate steps we are taking to further improve Scotland’s innovation performance, in advance of our wider review of innovation in the coming months.

The Programme for Government committed to continue to deliver our Innovation Action Plan into next year and continue to develop a range of policies to encourage investment by business in innovation.

The plan’s ambition for innovation is to create a culture in Scotland that supports ambitious businesses to use innovation to grow, all underpinned by a clear, easy to navigate, well-connected system of information, advice and support.

We will address a number of challenges and opportunities including:

– maximising the impact of university research to increase collaboration with businesses in Scotland, and internationally, in order to better drive improved economic output

– making better use of our existing network of Innovation Centres and ensure the wider public support landscape enables growth

– maximising the impact of our world-renowned commercial research base.

Innovation and research go hand in hand, so our world-class universities have a vital role to play and our academic base is well placed to drive growth.

We have five universities ranked in the Top 200 in the world and 77 per cent of our universities’ research is recognised in the UK’s Research Excellence Framework as either “world-leading” or “internationally excellent”. This is why we have invested, and continue to invest, in the development and application of research, innovation and technology, so that Scotland remains a highly productive and competitive country.

Innovation is critical to our ambition to “shift the dial” on Scotland’s economic performance.

Driving greater collaboration between industry and academia and building on our research strengths are key to Scotland’s economic future.

Paul Wheelhouse is Scottish Government minister for business, innovation and energy.

This article appears in the AUTUMN 2017 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version is available here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.