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State 'is real driver of R&D' says former science adviser

INDUSTRY and business spend twice as much on R&D as governments, yet public spending can be the real driver of business innovation, according to the Government's former chief scientific adviser.

Patrick Cunningham, who served in the post between 2007 and 2012, said governments varied widely in the way they aimed their R&D expenditure.

In an opinion piece for the international weekly science journal 'Nature', Mr Cunningham said Ireland was the only country out of 19 that increased the amount on economic objectives by more than 10pc.

He said expenditure had risen by 13pc to support innovation, growth and employment in the agriculture, food, marine and industrial sectors.

"And the country's business R&D expenditure rose by 43pc between 2006 and 2010, though cause and effect are difficult to disentangle," he wrote.

"Most countries invested 20 to 30pc of their science budget in economic development in 2011. South Korea, the highest such spender, targeted 50pc as part of a purposeful and successful partnership between government and big business.

"Belgium and, with recently modernised economies, Finland and Ireland, spent just under 40pc on economic development."

Mr Cunningham said that evaluating the impacts of R&D was challenging as it might not be felt until many years after the publication of research. But he said the levels of R&D funding needed to be raised across the board.

"In this time of recession, when taxpayers are asked to invest their hard-earned money for the public good, all governments need to reassess the aims of their R&D budgets," he wrote.

"Each nation must decide its own priorities; the experiences of Ireland and Finland suggest that there is much to be gained by investing explicitly for economic development – the benefits might be evident within a few years."

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