2024 Political Party Manifestos: Advancing the North through Life Sciences

What the main political party manifestos mean for life sciences, R&D and innovation

By Alexis Darby, Head of Public Affairs

It is just under three weeks from polling day and the three main political parties have launched their election manifestos.

A plan for the life sciences, health R&D and innovation are all policy areas that are key to boosting the economy of the North and of England and showing that the UK sits firmly on the international stage.

Our analysis of the of the UK Clinical Research Landscape in 2022 shows:

  • In 2018 the North was awarded £324 million in funding while the greater South East was awarded £1.49 billion.
  • In 2022 the North received £405 million, an increase of £81 million from 2018, while the Greater South East received an increase of £200 million, resulting in a total award of £1.69 Billion.

Health research funding is highly regionally imbalanced and years of promises to level up have had little impact – the North is starting from such a disadvantage that only unprecedented investment will move the needle.

At the current rate of change, there will always be a North-South divide in health research funding, and therefore a divide in health outcomes and productivity. Unless the next government address these the economic and health inequalities, the divide will widen.

So, what are the three main parties offering and will their commitments address the North- South gap in research funding and so drive the UK economy?


The Labour Party Manifesto

Earlier this year the Labour Party unveiled a new plan for the life sciences sector that it said will create thousands of jobs and inject growth into research and development investment.

Labour’s Shadow Science, Technology and Innovation Secretary Peter Kyle said the NHS should be ‘an engine for innovation’ for the UK and that the latest wave of technology could be ‘transformational’ for the discovery and delivery of medical treatments.

Key policies include:

  • Setting 10-year budgets for R&D institutions such as UKRI, to create a more certain funding environment and end short-termism and attract long-term investment. Restoring the UK’s share of global life sciences R&D to its 2012 level which could increase R&D investment in the pharmaceutical sector by £10 billion annually.
  • Ensuring the NHS uses innovation to improve health outcomes, by developing a ‘comprehensive innovation and adoption strategy in England, working with industry, patients and ICSs.’
  • Creating linked secure data environments and ensure proper federation of data sets, with a single access point for researchers to use data from genomic resources such as UK Biobank and Our Future Health. Setting specific targets for regulators – including approval timelines – and using these to benchmark regulators against their international comparators.
  • Creating new types of health and care professionals – a key tenet will be maximising the skill mix to support longer-term workforce planning, and better utilising roles across the NHS and social care through empowering them to play a more active part in caring for patients.

We welcome that life sciences and innovation will be directly under the Health Secretary’s ministerial responsibilities, introducing greater accountability and placing life sciences as a priority. However, many in the sector view this plan as unnecessary – as there is already a life science plan, the Life Sciences Vision (LSV) – and that this simply needs to be delivered not replaced.

We welcome the commitment to an industrial strategy which will be key for directing the above and also plans for a National Data Library to bring together existing research programmes and help deliver data-driven public services.  Again, we are asking that funding be targeted to address years of underfunding in health research – it’s vital the north is given its fair share of investment to boost the sector for the region and for the whole country.


The Conservative Party Manifesto

The pledge to increase R&D funding to £22 billion (up from £20 billion) is a significant investment aimed at bolstering the UK’s strengths in life sciences, AI, fintech, and green technology​. Our research showed that there is a significant health research funding gap in the North, it’s paramount this extra funding is targeted to our regions. With sufficient funding we can work to develop a Northern Supercluster which would see the sciences sector in the North doubled over 20 years, creating an additional 64,600 jobs and trebling the GVA added to the national economy from £5.17 billion to £16.52 billion.

The manifesto states we can “seize the benefits of Brexit” through simplified regulatory reforms designed to create a pro-innovation environment to streamline the process of developing and bringing new technologies to market. The Conservative Party would:

  • Remove bureaucratic obstacles to the use of new medicines, such as the NHS Budget Impact Test.
  • Align NHS England’s cost-effectiveness thresholds for new medicines indications with those used by NICE.
  • Implement a new medtech pathway so that cost-effective medtech, including AI, is rapidly adopted throughout the NHS.

The proposed regulatory reforms promise a pro-innovation environment, but the real-world impact of removing bureaucratic obstacles, such as the NHS Budget Impact Test, remains to be seen. Aligning NHS England’s cost-effectiveness thresholds with NICE and implementing a new medtech pathway are promising ideas, yet their execution will determine their success in improving healthcare delivery.

  • The Conservative’s Advanced Manufacturing Plan is a £4.5 billion commitment to secure strategic manufacturing sectors including automotive, aerospace, life sciences and clean energy. Plans also include building on the success of nine specialist Catapults, which support innovation and de-risk the transition from research and delivery, distributing £1.6 billion of funding across the country by 2028.
  • The Conservatives also plan to invest £3.4 billion in new technology to transform the NHS for staff and for patients. The NHS Productivity Plan will see NHS productivity grow by 1.9% a year from 2025-26 – unlocking £35 billion of cumulative savings by the end of the decade.

The effectiveness of these investments hinges on strategic implementation and addressing past inefficiencies in public spending. There is a notable absence of a comprehensive industrial strategy that could provide a framework for integrating the Advanced Manufacturing Plan and the Catapults.


The Liberal Democrat Party Manifesto  

The Liberal Democrats will launch an ambitious industrial strategy to incentivise businesses to invest and create good jobs across the UK. They will also re-establish the Industrial Strategy Council and put it on a statutory footing, to ensure vital oversight, monitoring and evaluation of the industrial strategy for the long term. Other policies include:

  • Support science, research and innovation, particularly among small businesses and startups, in universities and in zero-carbon, environmental and medical technologies, including by:
  • Aiming for at least 3% of GDP to be invested in research and development by 2030, rising to 3.5% by 2034.
  • Supporting science, research and innovation in universities, including continuing to participate in Horizon Europe and joining the European Innovation Council.

The emphasis on health and R&D, including the ambitious target of investing at least 3% of GDP in research and development by 2030, is noteworthy. However, the manifesto does not clearly address how this funding will be sourced or sustained, especially in the context of economic uncertainties and potential budgetary constraints. It also does not detail where this money would be spent and if it would be used to close the health research funding gap. Participation in Horizon Europe and the European Innovation Council is promising, yet post-Brexit collaborations may present unforeseen challenges.

The Labour Party’s manifesto offers sustained investment in R&D institutions and leveraging NHS capabilities to drive innovation. If this is targeted, it could drive the North’s prominence in life sciences and create significant job opportunities in the region and foster needed regional economic resilience.

The Conservatives Party’s pledge to increase R&D funding and simplify regulatory frameworks could benefit northern regions along with plans to invest in Catapults. Their focus on advanced manufacturing and NHS technology upgrades underscores their commitment to boosting the economic landscape through the sector.

The Liberal Democrats’ commitment to an industrial strategy aims to incentivise R&D investments, particularly in sustainable technologies, crucial for positioning the UK and the North at the forefront of global innovation. Their commitment to substantial R&D funding targets and international collaborations through Horizon Europe could potentially amplify opportunities for northern economies in a post-Brexit era.

Whichever party form the next government, it’s clear that the economic future of the North hinges on effective targeted policy implementation that not only stimulates growth but also lays a sustainable foundation for long-term prosperity. Our mantra is that if it can be done in the North, it should be done in the North. And the success of life science and R&D policy depends on the governments ability to harness regional strengths, foster innovation clusters, and address socio-economic disparities, all of which will shape a resilient and globally competitive future for northern communities.

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