The UK Life Sciences sector employs around 300,000 people, is worth over £94bn to the economy, and in the past few years has led the world in the development and deployment of innovative treatments such as cell and gene therapies, Covid vaccines, and surgical robotics.
Because of this, the political capital presented by the long-term improvement and prosperity of the sector is huge, especially in the context of a looming General Election and a post-Brexit Britain, where regulatory rule books have been ripped up and (slowly) re-written. It is therefore no surprise that both major political parties are positioning themselves as the party for UK Life Sciences.
Yet, despite being recognised as such as crucial sector for the health and wealth of the nation, there is a growing sense of frustration at the status of the industry from within.
It would be dishonest to claim the successive Conservative Governments of Cameron, May, Johnson, Truss, and Sunak, haven’t attempted to invigorate the sector. However, it would also be unfair to not question the efficacy of these attempts. From the Life Sciences Strategies, Industrial Strategies, MedTech Strategies, reform of NICE, AHSNs, creation of the AAC and more, there have been movements, but a clear need exists for the long-term planning and development of UK Life Sciences.
It is in this context that Labour come in, launching their Plan for the Life Sciences sector, titled “Prescription for Growth”, with the intention of working in genuine partnership with the Life Science industry and making sure British Life Sciences “lead the world.”
However, in the cloud of Labour’s continued optimism, reinforced by their ‘securonimics’ approach to the economy, the question for many is, will Labour’s vision genuinely position UKPLC as the location for continued life science investment, or will it be a continued case of regulation, regulation, regulation?
There is no doubt that Labour’s plan hits the right tone and sets out some strong policies to improve the outlook of the sector, including extra investment, assigning new responsibility for the sector to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and establishing an Office of Regulatory Innovation. Yet, it is also clear that the Plan is without many gambles and plays a safe hand, eerily similar to that of the Conservative Governments.
Besides the previously mentioned, few of the plan’s proposals are particularly revolutionary, and in many cases feel like a simple reiteration of existing Government commitments and initiatives, such as making the NHS app a one-stop shop for health information, or seizing the opportunity presented by the NHS Federated data platform.
However, reinventing the wheel of Life Sciences may not have necessarily been the play or intention of the Labour Party. Due to the size of the NHS and its position as a universal, single payer system serving a diverse population, widespread and transformational change is hard. So persisting and improving change in-progress can definitely be easier than starting afresh and reconstructing the un-reconstructable.
As the saying goes, if you want something done well, do it yourself, and Keir Starmer, Peter Kyle, Wes Streeting, and their teams may be doing just that. But why release a plan that commits the country to more of the same? For Labour, fundamentally, it is about securing the confidence of industry.
Continuing their run of flipping industry CEOS from blue to red, it is clear that Labour’s Life Sciences Plan is one that looks to maintain the Party’s continuing favour with the life sciences sector, rather than offering them something shiny, new and unachievable.
This is clearly working, with the wider Life Science sector giving its seal of approval since the plan’s release, with trade associations ABPI, BIVDA, ABHI and TechUK, all commenting in support of the plan and Labour’s ongoing engagement with the private sector.
In the run-up to a General Election, many expect opposition parties to reinvent the wheel and offer widespread reforms that transform governance, structures and policies created by their future predecessors, but Labour’s Life Sciences Plan does exactly the opposite.
In the plan we can see a well measured, balanced, and proactive strategy that doesn’t look to be radical, but do what is already happening, but better.
The purpose of Labour’s Life Sciences Plan is clear, showcase expertise, instil confidence, and maintain the Party’s continuing favour with the life sciences sector. Should they reach Government, a good approach to Life Sciences can reinforce the narrative of a new Labour Party that supports industry, improves productivity, and costs and finances their politics sustainably, without reaching into the back pockets of the nation’s voters. Only time will tell whether the Labour Party can deliver on their ongoing promises.