UK Bioeconomy Strategy: Concrete Policy Largely Absent

Posted in: biobased

Two years in the making, the UK's bioeconomy strategy is full of optimism, but lacking in policy proposals.

Following months of anticipation from the sector, the UK Government has finally published its Bioeconomy Strategy. This follows a consultation opened in late 2016, and is a collaborative effort from both the department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and stakeholders in the bioeconomy itself. The document aims to outline how the UK’s bioeconomy will develop between now and 2030, and sets several ambitious targets. Unfortunately, the strategy is very vague on how those targets are to be achieved.

According to the Strategy document, the UK’s bioeconomy is worth over £200billion, and the central aim touted throughout is to double that value by 2030. The Strategy repeatedly states that the UK wishes to become a “world leader” in biobased industry, but there will be many who read this and are sceptical of just how effective this published Strategy will be in translating this ambition into development.

Chief among the concerns of members of the sector will be a lack of concrete policy proposals. The Strategy outlines clear goals for the bioeconomy: utilising the UK’s world-leading R&D infrastructure to drive development, maximising productivity from the UK’s available biological resources, and creating a market environment that favours bioeconomy development; however, many of the “Actions for Change” included in the Strategy simply consist of future collaborations with industry or academia to determine appropriate actions. Thus, this Strategy may almost be seen as a “stop-gap” on the way to future change. All concrete mentions of policy and investment in the Strategy refer to already existing examples, such as the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and some that no-longer exist, such as the mothballed IB Catalyst. There is also repeated mention of how policies outlined in 2017’s Industrial Strategy and Clean Growth Strategy will benefit the bioeconomy, but as previously pointed out by NNFCC, the bioeconomy is scarcely mentioned ineither document. Thus, as has been the case for some time with the bioeconomy and UK policy, the situation appears to be “wait and see”.

In a statement given to Bio-Based World News, Dr Adrian Higson, NNFCC’s Lead Consultant for Biobased Products, said: “We welcome the publication of the strategy which represents two years of stakeholder consultation and development. However, it is disappointing that the strategy is limited on concrete policy actions and in many ways fails to give the UK bio-economy a much-needed boost.

“The recent closure of key ethanol assets and the cessation of the successful IB Catalyst innovation programme (R&D industrial biotechnology programme) are disappointing; with stronger government ambition and support these closures could have been avoided. There’s now a lot work required to the turn the Strategy’s aspirations into real actions, this includes immediate action to secure the Bioeconomy Sector Deal necessary to reach the target of doubling the value of the UK’s bio-economy by 2030.”

As for the bioeconomy, and the 5.2 million people in the UK who work in it, we must patiently await the outcomes of this Strategy’s promised determination of the best next steps to take, as it offers little by way of these in itself.

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This article was written by Bob Horton, Research Analyst at NNFCC. 

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