Nesta’s plan to keep ‘lost decade of innovation’ going a while longer


Britain’s least deserving ‘charity’ – the obscenely over-funded and fatuously self-important Nesta (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) – has a new wheeze.

Having discovered through lots of earnest research what most people already knew – that the UK has suffered ‘a lost decade of innovation’ (crikey, only one?) – Nesta now wants to hold a ‘conversation’ about innovation-led economic growth. It intends to ‘release’ the results of this ‘conversation’ in September, in what it will call Plan I.

That’s pronounced Plan Eye, not Plan One. Short for Plan Innovation, but having a dig at the Plan A and Plan B cliché. Clever, eh? Not confusing or gimmicky at all.

September is barely a month away, so we suspect Nesta has already written most of Plan I, and just wants a few token contributions that it can cherry-pick to ‘confirm’ its own views.

It’s therefore almost a certainty that none of our own suggestions would be included.

But here they are anyway.

We at believe that the UK’s long-term innovation prospects might be very significantly improved:

If Nesta reverted to its founding role, which was to help inventors and small businesses to develop and commercialise their inventions.

If Nesta became the champion of innovation at source – which is individuals, not organisations. If you want more innovation, you must teach more individuals how to pursue their ideas and reduce the risks that go with invention and innovation.

This means that Nesta must abandon its hypocritical disdain for inventors and invention. If you treat inventors as non-contributors to innovation – the Nesta view for some years now – then you really shouldn’t accuse other parts of the economy of turning their own backs on innovation. People in glass houses and all that.

If Nesta were less besotted with faddish technologies and recognised that any invention idea or innovation with potential to create jobs and wealth is worth encouraging. It may not have wow factor but if it’s legal and can sell, let’s have it.

If Nesta put its weight behind a cause that is increasingly urgent: the need to reform the patent system. Without radical reform – something to which our government seems wilfully indifferent – many UK SMEs, inventors and innovators will continue to be disadvantaged by a patent system in which legal outcomes are determined mainly by money and influence. In any court action involving a patent, the party with the most money will usually win, irrespective of the merit of their case. This is a huge disincentive to SME innovation.

Nesta will of course do none of these things.

There is little doubt that when it comes to UK innovation, Nesta is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Our prediction is that Plan I, if and when it appears, will simply make things worse by proposing facile or irrelevant ‘ways forward’.

If that isn’t clear enough, let’s end by reproducing most of a reader post that followed coverage of Nesta in the Daily Telegraph:

I am an innovator/inventor and was a funded client of the former London Business Innovation Centre. I expended a large amount of time and effort going through the hoops of the NESTA application process for innovator support. I successfully navigated through the first round and was sent for independent review at the National Space Centre in Leicester. The NSC recommended my project to NESTA. Response from NESTA? To paraphrase: “Computer says ‘No’ “

Okay, they are perfectly at liberty to decline any project. But after the reams of pages of forms I had completed for them, not even a couple of lines of feedback in explanation or direction of how to improve my chances? My appeals for any such feedback fell on deaf ears.

My experience of NESTA? Time wasters.

Hear hear.

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