The Nurse Review


Creating a new future for science and research

Chi Onwurah MP

Chi Onwurah is MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and Shadow Minister for Science, Research & Technology. Prior to her election to Parliament in May 2010, she worked as an engineer in the telecoms sector for over 20 years. From 2004 to 2010 she was Head of Telecoms Technology at Ofcom, focussing on the implications for competition and regulation of the services and technologies associated with Next Generation Networks. She is a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering & Technology (FIET) and the City & Guilds of London Institute (FCGI).


  • We need more private sector investment and a long term strategy for R&D, underpinned by a mission based industrial strategy
  • Constant change militates against investment planning for business
  • Labour are considering long term 10-year spending cycle for science
  • Increasing diversity in STEM sectors must be a priority
  • Universities have a vital role in stimulating regional economic growth.

As the review points out, the UK has key strengths and advantages in the fields of Research, Development and Innovation (RDI). Indeed, Britain has a long and proud science heritage – the invention of the steam engine in my constituency for example. We also have a world-leading science base and we ranked third in terms of published scientific articles, behind only the US and China.

While UK science is pushing the boundaries of humanity's collective understanding, it also represents a priceless platform for future economic growth and prosperity. As the review concludes, it is only through RDI that ‘our country can thrive, driving sustainable economic growth through increased productivity, improving public services and the quality of our lives, protecting the environment and meeting future global and national crises and challenges’. I agree with every word of that.

The review calls for both investment and for strategy. There is work to be done, something the Labour party recognises. We have a vision for Research & Development, for stoking the engine of high-skilled growth, accessing new and diverse talent pools, and catalysing regions that have been left out of science investment.

Due to a lack of investment and a lack of industrial strategy, the UK is not currently converting our rich science base into a high-skill, high-wage, high-productivity economy. While the EU and the US take steps to secure the industries of the future, building sovereign science and technological capabilities, the UK Government has allowed our own science startups to be bought up or to move abroad, due to a lack of UK investment options.

There has been a succession of Conservative Government strategies and plans but little concrete action. There has been an Innovation Strategy, an R&D Roadmap, an Office for Science and Technology Strategy, two National Science and Technology Councils, a Science and Technology Framework – and now a whole new Government Science Department. Since Sir Paul's review was commissioned, there have been three changes of Science Minister!

In the Labour Party, we want to end the pattern of supposedly long-term plans that do not survive a political cycle. The current chopping and changing makes it nearly impossible for science investors and businesses to take decisions about their future direction. Science and business need a long-term vision and a plan to achieve this; one upon which they can rely for more than a few months at a time.

A mission-based approach

We propose not only to have an industrial strategy, but also to put in place a mission-based approach. Our industrial strategy missions are: delivering clean power by 2030; ‘caring for the future’ which is about better social care; infrastructure; building a resilient economy; and harnessing data for the public good. These missions will be overseen by an Industrial Strategy Council that will be placed on a statutory footing. That will give confidence to investors in our RDI strategy and its implementation.

The industrial strategy addresses the interface between science and business. Science needs a long-term plan of its own, though. Beyond providing a long-term framework for policy stability and growth, Labour is considering placing core R&D funding for agencies on 10-year spending cycle. Long-term funding envelopes would give the state the ability to be flexible and agile, delivering effective research outcomes and acting as a magnet for global research investment and talent.

We particularly recognise the patchwork, bureaucratic nature of some Government-funded R&D as highlighted in the review. The landscape is very complex, not just for scientists but also for businesses. Access to research funding generally means grappling with the burden of frequent and repetitive reviews, reporting and auditing. These can be extremely time-intensive and in addition place unnecessary bureaucratic and financial demands on public sector R&D funding bodies, instead of allowing them to focus on delivering world-class research and innovation.

So, there is a need for a clear, coordinated and systematic approach to R&D strategy and policy making across Government. It is a challenge the Labour Party has been discussing for some time now: how to ensure the delivery of inter-Departmental science and technology agendas, while developing credible alternatives to the repetitive, multi-layered reporting and auditing currently demanded. We have to find a balance between accountability on the one hand and a culture of confidence and earned trust on the other.


We also recognise another finding of the review, which is the existence of a chronic lack of diversity, not only in institutions, but in terms of people and places when it comes to science opportunities and funding. While we are very proud of the Golden Triangle, it receives more public R&D funding than the whole of the rest of England.

Further, a full 65% of the UK STEM workforce is both white and male. As Keir Starmer says, we take our strengths from too few places, in terms of geography and demographics.

Labour is exploring how to stimulate a richer diversity of researchers’ backgrounds and looking to overcome the inequalities that many face in applying for short-term, incremental grants. These barriers include issues around caring and other responsibilities that many from non-traditional backgrounds have.

Regional economic growth

I was pleased to see the review recognise the key role of universities in building regional economies which are strong and self-sufficient – and not dependent on handouts. That is why we will champion universities and clusters of universities as engines of regional growth. The prospect of universities directing local businesses to relevant research elsewhere is also very attractive.

I am very glad to see the review state firmly that associating to Horizon Europe is vital to maintaining the UK’s leading role in globally-important research. For research scientists, both in this country and those thinking of coming here, that lack of association is incredibly detrimental. We must make progress in those negotiations.

The Labour Party believes in this nation's RDI science potential. We see a clear path from science to the jobs that you can, in Joe Biden's phrase, ‘raise a family on’, the high-skill, high-wage jobs that people are proud of. We need to see these the length and breadth of the country, for our economic prosperity, for our national security and for our social cohesion.

The Nurse review is a great piece of work. Now we need a Government which is serious about science and serious about creating the outcomes that the review seeks. Working in partnership with science researchers, businesses and trades unions, Labour will create a fairer, greener and more sustainable future.