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Small London firms out to boost R&D agenda – but lack innovation and STEM skills

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The skills gap is an ongoing problem in the UK and it’s resulted in various steps being taken by organisations.

For example, Barclays has started to recruit people aged between 24-65 as apprentices in order to bring in a deeper pool of talent, while City & Guilds has launched a £7.5m pot to foster skills in new companies.

Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking has found that 47 per cent of small firms in London are eager to increase the amount invested into R&D projects to create new products and another 50 per cent are open to do so with access to finance.

“What we’re seeing is a growing determination amongst London’s small and medium sized firms to innovate in order to drive competitiveness and secure their long-term success,” said Paul Evans, area director, SME Banking in London, Lloyds Commercial Banking.

“SMEs are ideally placed to lead this charge. They have the advantage of being closer to their customers and more internally flexible, which makes the process of listening to feedback and adapting products and services a shorter cycle.”

However, the skills gap is going to cause a problem for the hopeful firms. 64 per cent said R&D plans are being held back, according to the study, with 35 per cent putting the delay on time and 32 per cent admitted they’re missing the skills for innovation, including a shortage in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

A separate study has estimated the UK will require 1.3m STEM professionals by 2020, but universities are producing just 71,000 graduates a year.

Read more on the skills gap:

Evans added: “The scale of the challenge, however, is equally clear. Unless we provide access to the talent necessary to deliver that innovation, we run the risk of missing an enormous economic opportunity.

“That requires a concerted and collaborative effort on the part of the UK’s innovation ecosystem, with skills and funding being the killer ingredients.”

Some 47 per cent of respondents said that innovation investment over the past five years had boosted profits, while 41 per cent added that it brought in more talent. On average, SMEs in London spent 11.5 per cent of revenue on R&D since 2010, which accounted for 15 per cent of sales.

Additional results found that 68 per cent of firms said innovation is necessary for growth plans and 63 per cent will raise external capital in order to innovate.

In October, the CBI applied pressure to the government in a cry to increase funding on innovation and science, with the UK’s R7D spend at the lowest in the G8.

John Cridland, CBI director-general, said: “Our research shows that innovation investment has never been more important, given its effect on enhancing productivity. While our economy is doing well, we must not be complacent, as we cannot afford to rest on our laurels while our peers pace ahead.

“With the UK’s research and development spending the lowest among the G8, we are falling ever further behind our international competitors and must take action so that we lead from the front.”

Image: Shutterstock

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