A UK Government review of Britain’s network of technology and innovation centres, or “catapults”, has recommended a new code of practice.
The Department of Business and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) suggested the move would deliver better transparency over how they make decisions on competing for commercial work, and collaborative research and development (R&D).
BEIS added: “Catapults should have a transparent and robust framework in place to address concerns raised by external stakeholders.”
Among its seven other recommendations, BEIS said government-backed funding bodies UK Research and Innovation and Innovate UK should review their rules to make sure they allow catapults to collaborate on projects of mutual interest to the network and evaluate how effectively they are working together.
BEIS also said catapults should review whether their links with universities were benefiting their sector or technology, and meeting their original purpose to bridge the gap between research and industry, and whether such engagement could usefully be expanded to a wider range of universities.
In addition, the department wants to see catapults sharing best practice, supported by UKRI/Innovate UK, including by helping each other to access finance.
And it suggested the catapults could do more to identify and plug skills gaps in the economy.
BEIS added: “We recognise that catapults are not currently funded to fulfil this role and will consider whether funding can be made available through future fiscal events.”
Science Research and Innovation Minister Amanda Solloway said: “It is evident from the findings of this review that catapults play an important role in the research and development ecosystem.
“They act as a bridge between the UK’s research base and industry, building on commercial propositions in high potential sectors and technologies to create economic benefit for the UK, and supporting the government’s commitment to increase investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.
“It is vital that we make the most of these unique assets.”
She added: “This review has highlighted the positive impact of the catapult network to date, including their role in providing business support, establishing collaborations and providing access to finance, as well as their role in ‘levelling up’ and skills development.
“It is essential we act on the recommendations in this review to ensure the catapults can build on these strong foundations and continue to deliver support to UK innovation, sectors and industries.”
Lords have previously warned the government’s ambitions for R&D will not be achieved without more support for catapults. Underfunding is currently preventing them from maximising innovation potential and economic gain, they said.
Scotland is home to two catapults – for medicines discovery and offshore renewable energy.
These and similar facilities south of the border aim to turn innovative ideas into commercial products and connect businesses with the UK’s research and academic communities.
Ms Solloway said: “Catapults have an important role to play in unleashing innovation, supporting the levelling up agenda and driving regional economic growth.”