Transcript for Manufacturing The Future Conference 2015 - Interview with Professor Philip Nelson

Professor Philip Nelson - Chief Executive, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

I'm Philip Nelson and I am Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). I think it is wonderful to bring together the community in this country that works on this very important area - it is vital for our economy that we get this right, that we get our research in manufacturing really motoring and I think what we see in this event is the evidence that we are managing to do that. We started this four years ago and I very much hope we can continue. To do it all depends on our settlement in the next Spending Review, but of course we are absolutely behind the whole mission of manufacturing research. We need to really keep exploiting the expertise we have in our immensely strong science base, to make sure that we keep propelling things forward.

We've obviously got many representatives from the manufacturing industry and we pride ourselves on making those connections very strongly. We have also importantly got representatives from government too, because I think that tripartite relationship between academia, government and industry is absolutely critical to make this whole endeavour work smoothly.

It's very clearly established by economists that a massive fraction of economic growth is down to technological progress and some estimates are as high as 70 per cent. Without technological progress there is no growth, it is almost as simple as that and so investment in science, engineering, technology is absolutely critical to our future. I think that what EPSRC does is ensure that we get the balance right between the longer term investments that we are going to need in 20 years' time and the shorter term investments where we can actually have a real impact on the economy in just a few years' time - we work very hard to get that balance right.

We've got really strong evidence to show that our investments really do reap economic benefits. We have recently done a study that showed the return on our investments is almost ten to one and other economists have come up with very similar estimates. I think public spending on research in engineering and science is money really well spent. The other important factor is that it always generates private sector investment as well, so by putting public money into this area it stimulates further investment from private sector companies. Our organisation has a great track record for working with business and industry to co-invest in our universities, which are absolutely world class and really something to be built upon. We have a fantastic opportunity for the future in this country and right now, where we are trying to rebuild our economy, it is particularly important that we continue investment in science, engineering and technology.

It's well known that there is a productivity puzzle at the moment, the nation probably isn't as productive as it ought to be. Some of our sectors are doing remarkably well, aerospace and automotive for example are two classic examples of where research and development investment has been very strong and productivity is also growing really remarkably well and solidly, but there are other sectors where that is not the case and we need to make sure we start getting research development and the innovations that go with it into a larger number of our industry sectors.