Life sciences to play key role in new export plan

Thursday 10th January 2019

Minister for Trade, Investment & Innovation, Ivan McKee, used yesterday’s debate in Holyrood to highlight that Scotland’s life sciences sector is currently on track to reach a turnover of £8bn by 2025, after increasing from £4bn in 2015 to £5.2bn in 2016.

As Scotland approaches the second anniversary of the publication of the life sciences strategy, Ivan McKee credited “strengthening partnerships” across industry, academia and the NHS with helping to achieve a doubling in sectoral turnover, and delivering innovations that had improved patient outcomes.

Export plan

Extolling the achievements of the sector and emphasising the potential for further significant growth, the Minister emphasised his desire to see life sciences playing a “key role” in boosting Scotland’s exports. Notably, parliament was informed details of an export plan, designed to enable businesses in Scotland to take advantage of international opportunities, would be announced in the spring.

The UK’s industrial strategy

Conservative spokesperson for the economy, fair work & jobs, Dean Lockhart praised funding directed to Scotland from the UK Government industrial strategy fund.

Outlining funding allocations that included significant public sector research and development funding, Dean Lockhart urged the Scottish Government to increase efforts to engage with the UK Government’s industrial strategy and the investment opportunities it provided.

He and others highlighted the UK medicines manufacturing innovation centre that received £13m of funding from the UK Government.

The recently announced long-term plan for the NHS in England was also brought to the chamber’s attention by Dean Lockhart, who said that £2bn of funding allocated to Scotland was further evidence the UK Government regarded the life sciences sector as a key pillar of the industrial strategy and economic progress.

Suggesting Dean Lockhart’s assertion was somewhat “detached from reality”, Ivan McKee said the suggestion £2bn was being allocated was unsubstantiated, although he welcomed any funding made available to Scotland through the UK strategy.

Collaboration with the NHS

The potential benefits for patients in Scotland linked to a flourishing life sciences sector were a significant focus of the debate, with Ivan McKee keen to point out close collaboration between he and Cabinet Secretary for Health & Sport, Jeane Freeman.

Individual patient identification which allowed tracking from cradle to grave was touted as one of Scotland’s real assets, enabling strong collaboration between industry, academia and the NHS and attracting international interest.

Such collaboration was credited with producing “globally competitive recruitment trials”, “globally recognised electronic health systems” and contributing to Scotland having some of the world’s top medical schools focused on translational medicine, as well as phase one, two and three clinical trial post market surveillance and data management.

Tax Gap

Dean Lockhart called for a change to tax policy, noting concerns raised by the Scottish Life Sciences Association, suggesting that Scotland’s status as the highest taxed part of the UK hampered growth in the life sciences sector.

The Minister disputed this point, stating Scotland was the lowest and fairest taxed part of the UK for the majority that lived there.

Trade unions

In calling for trade unions to be allowed to play a greater role in the development of the sector, Richard Leonard suggested more than a purely economic approach was needed. He condemned some major corporations in the industry who had “obstructed” workers in pursuit of their right to trade union membership and organisation.

Richard Leonard noted that best practice in industrial relations should stand as an “absolute prerequisite” for companies considered for public contracts, including NHS funding.


Several speakers, including Richard Leonard and Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie, focused on the potential impact of Brexit on the sector.

Concerns were raised that if Scotland did not have continued access to the markets and resources that had played a part in rapid growth in Scotland over the last 20 years, by failing to secure trade deal with the EU, medicines, clinical trials, investment and employment would risk being negatively impacted.

In contrast, Dean Lockhart called on the SNP to encourage its MPs to vote in favour of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal to avoid a no-deal scenario.

STEM & Skills

A need to encourage more women and girls into life sciences careers, particularly by increasing the number of people studying STEM subjects was paid much attention.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con) called for Government to do more to increase the number of apprenticeships in the sector, while Dean Lockhart identified a “growing shortage” of science teachers in primary and secondary schools and urged action to address an “underinvestment” in STEM subjects.