Last week, the Labour Party unveiled its new Life Sciences Sector Plan, setting out a roadmap to make the UK a major power in the sector.
Of course, this is by no means the first political attempt to crystalise an approach for the UK to harness the economic power of life sciences. Indeed, the current government published its own Life Sciences Vision in 2021, and has set an ambition to make the UK a science and technology superpower by 2030.
But with opinion polls pointing towards a likely next Labour government, the Party’s Sector Plan will provide a degree of reassurance to the industry that it will remain central to political and economic thought. Indeed, there has been a generally warm reception from industry, with a sense that the plan would allow the UK to build on current innovation within life science and biotech firms, drive investment in UK pharmaceuticals, and be a leader in the development and regulation of emerging treatments, such as vaccines.
For organisations looking to inform the development of Labour’s plans, and the future of the sector, now is the time to engage – with Labour leading in the polls, and an election on the horizon, the Party’s Plan for the sector will take on increasing importance.
Our Public Affairs team explore what the Life Sciences Sector Plan means for businesses in the industry, and how best to shape the political approach to the sector as a general election looms.
When political parties release sector plans, particularly in the run up to a General Election, it is a signal to businesses of the importance they place on that sector – not just the economic importance to the UK, but the political importance of demonstrating ambition.
One of those ambitions is making the UK a “frontier market”, with a Labour government set to work with industry to identify the technologies and disease areas where the UK could lead. This demonstrates the Labour Party’s openness to working with businesses in the sector to define the life sciences landscape in the UK and an opportunity for businesses to promote their advocacy priorities to a critical audience.
Further commitments which demonstrate the Labour Party’s ambitions for the sector are those focused on increasing access to finance.
For example, a potential Labour government would look to empower the British Business Bank with a more ambitious remit focused on providing growth capital, enabling regional development, and streamlining support to high growth biotech and life science scale-ups that too often find it hard to access funding as they move towards commercialisation or form of sale.
The Bank would also be tasked with evaluating the impact of the R&D tax credit scheme on the life sciences industry.
This focus on providing broader support to the sector means that engagement with Labour provides an opportunity for businesses to work with policy makers to directly improve their business environment.
But while the Plan provides a broad approach to driving the growth of life sciences, there are undoubtedly details to be filled. And this provides an outstanding opportunity for experts in the sector to help enhance Labour’s thinking.
There are three things we recommend businesses do to help Labour continue to develop its Life Sciences Sector Plan.
Given the Plan offers a blueprint for a potential Labour government’s approach to supporting the life sciences industry, there remains the opportunity to influence how that blueprint is actually implemented. Policy makers will be keen to meet with industry, and other stakeholders, to begin establishing their priorities and possible legislative and regulatory changes that might be required to meet them.
The Party will be looking for tangible, provable case studies of what works when it comes to growing the life sciences sector. By providing these to Labour, not only can you champion your own organisation, but you will help to set the paradigm for what a potential future government views as a priority, and a measure of success.
With life sciences being a clear priority for the Labour Party, this is the time to begin, or maintain, your engagement with Labour stakeholders, to position yourself as a thought leader with valuable insights and expertise.
While your insights and ideas will be welcomed by Labour, demonstrating that you are not a lone voice is a crucial part of your engagement.
You should focus on bringing together stakeholders from across the value chain who share your perspective; doing so will demonstrate your convening powers and ability to harness insights from key stakeholders, which can be shared with policy makers.
Furthermore, make sure that you are properly utilising your industry bodies and other sectoral organisations to deliver your message. You will undoubtedly still need a distinct voice in the public policy discourse, but by engaging through industry bodies you will leverage their political influence, and have the opportunity to steer their message to policy makers.
While much of the focus of any Labour engagement will be senior figures within the Party, such as the shadow cabinet and special advisors, do not underestimate the ability of the wider Party to influence the direction it takes on life sciences. It will be critical to engage with backbench MPs, committee members, and Labour orientated think tanks, amongst others.
Always consider who else senior Labour policy makers will be speaking to, and the messages that they will be hearing. It is key to build a range of supporters who are able to tell your story on your behalf.
Engaging with MPs with an interest in the sector is an excellent first step to take. Having them discuss your issues in Parliament will demonstrate the political will to drive change on your advocacy priorities.
As we approach the general election, the life sciences sector will become increasingly important in both parties’ plans for driving economic growth and productivity. Labour’s new sector plan is a case in point.
For organisations in the sector who are keen to share their ideas and insights, there is an opportunity to help drive the development of the industry for years to come.
If you’d like to have an informal chat about what the life sciences plan means for your business, or about building a public affairs programme in the run-up to a general election, please get in touch with the team on [email protected].