Ruggedly handsome, hugely wealthy, highly personable and feted by all, there is a lot to dislike about Sir James Dyson* but it has to be said that he’s talking a lot of sense when it comes to UK attitudes to technology.
Sir James’s new report Ingenious Britain was commissioned by the Tories but that doesn’t mean we can safely dismiss it. Rather than suggesting the odd fraction of a point be diverted somewhere else and calling for ‘awareness’ campaigns, as is so often the case with these reports, the great man shouts from the rooftops for radical change.
He wants R&D tax credits and other carrots to go to startups rather than rewarding big firms, he wants nearly double the money for science/tech postgrad researchers, and he wants more science teachers. Best of all, he wants our government to get on with the big projects rather than talking about them.
Say it loud, Sir James. When you’re of a certain age it is very dispiriting to read that plans to create, say, a high-speed rail network will be ready by the time your coffin could be broken up for sleepers. Britain was once a country shaped by self-made men: engineers, scientists and other developers brimming with ambition and drive. They built products and infrastructure that became the catalysts of the modern world.
We need an example for the next Swan, Stephenson, Brunel and we need to be able to compete with countries that encourage ingenuity rather than build statues to dead inventors. That means learning from places like the US which dominates business software because it encourages people to try, and even to fail then try again.
We all know what works: let’s get on with it.
*And I don’t like the way fine dust rises from the unit when you empty the chamber.