News, Thought leadership

Becoming a “science superpower”; more than words on a page

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life sciences sector

In late July, The Economist declared that there is “no better example” of Britain’s strengths than the life sciences sector. To what extent have the government’s ambitions translated into action?

Earlier this month, former Conservative minister, William Hague, described ensuring that Britain becomes a science superpower as “the single most important activity” for the incoming Prime Minister.

As the final two candidates for Conservative Party leadership were announced, former Science Minister, George Freeman MP, stated he would back “whoever as Prime Minister will best put science technology & innovation at the heart of our economic plan”. Lastly, in their most recent report, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee hailed the “exceptional science and technology base in the UK” but highlighted that without continued commitment, “science and technology superpower” would simply be an empty slogan.

The desire for the United Kingdom to cement itself as a flourishing and competitive life sciences, research and development, and innovation nation is evident. This was recognised in the 2019 Conservative Party Manifesto, which detailed commitments to the life sciences sector, vaccine development and medicines. It was here that the ambition to make the UK “the leading global hub for life sciences” was cemented.

Key stakeholders in the sector have launched the campaign to keep the delivery of the Life Sciences Vision at the top of the agenda. But in the face of the cost-of-living crisis, questions regarding the integrity and character of Boris Johnson, and a seemingly ever more divided Conservative Party, it’s position of importance seems to be slipping.

A strong foundation

It is not news that science and technology in the UK has a long and established history, greatly contributing to the field globally. From Newton, to Darwin, Franklin, Crick, Berners-Lee, Hawking, Lovelace and Fleming, many greats in the history of UK science need no introduction.

This legacy of excellence, combined with world-leading Universities and political will has translated into the UK continuing to play a leading role in further the advancement of science. Through the 100,000 Genomes Project and the development and deployment of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to help tame the Covid-19 pandemic, to name but two examples.

In announcing the 100,000 Genomes Project, former Prime Minister David Cameron said that “it is crucial that [the UK] continues to push boundaries [of science]”. Since then, through continued support along with scientific and political will and investment, the UK has truly established itself as a global genomic superpower.

Additionally, in building upon the strength of the UK’s universities, the formation of a life sciences cluster has become ever more prevalent, the three most prominent of this cluster being the three corners of the “golden triangle”: Oxford, Cambridge and London. With the announcement of £900 million being invested to expand the Stevenage UK Bioscience Hub, creating up to 5,000 jobs, the potential to expand the sector further is clear.

Considering few industries have greater growth potential than life sciences, even in the midst of current political and social challenges, the will to deliver the UK’s mission to become a science superpower must not waver.

An empty slogan?

The UK presents a ripe environment within which the life sciences sector can continue to thrive and yield great benefits to society and the economy. However, if development of the sector is not resourced, the UK will only run the risk of falling further down the global leader board.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been felt across the healthcare sector, greatly impacting the NHS; however, decline in the delivery of research, for example, has been noted since 2017. While the pharmaceutical industry invests more in R&D than other sectors, since 2012, the share of global pharmaceutical R&D expenditure – according to data from the ABPI – has fallen from 7.7 per cent to 4.1 per cent. Prior to that, since 2010, the UK has fallen from 4th to 98th place in overall trade balance in pharmaceuticals.

As stated in The Economist, “real change requires political will”, rightfully setting out the mission for the next Prime Minister. While recent debates and hustings have focused upon economic growth through tax cuts, playing to the UK’s strengths will be mission critical. The life sciences sector lies at the heart of achieving that vision.

Supported by the Life Sciences Vision, Genome UK, The Future of Clinical Research Delivery and the Government Office for Science, to name but a few, the stage is set for the UK to propel itself to the top of the global science and tech leader board. If it fails to harness the potential of the life sciences sector, the “science superpower” mission statement will be nothing more than letters on a page. It’s down to the next Prime Minister to not let this opportunity slip the nation’s grasp.

News, Thought leadership

What should integrated care partnerships be prioritising?

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integrated care partnerships

As the wheels of integrated care begin to turn, Eliot Gillings explores exactly what integrated care partnerships should be prioritising, and why.

An integrated care partnership (ICP) is ultimately responsible for the creation of an integration strategy that can inform the work of integrated care boards (ICBs) and partner organisations. Looking at short-, medium-, and long-term challenges to the delivery of health and care (which may impact certain regions disproportionately), the ICP has the opportunity to assess and address health inequalities through system-wide action.

Key to enacting system-wide action will be the development of collaborative networks between ICPs and partner organisations, including social care providers, charity and volunteer groups, primary care networks and others. Beyond enabling a more holistic and personalised provision of care, an institutional emphasis on collaboration will enable an ICP better understand the challenges faced by their systems and their populations.

In building that network, however, it will be key for ICPs to deliver short-term solutions to health inequalities within their systems, which will, in turn, necessitate the rapid establishment of institutional priorities. Accordingly, the following list highlights some key areas of consideration for ICPs as they continue to grow as statutory bodies.

     1. Closing the gap on data inequality

One of the central purposes of ICSs is reducing health inequality through population health strategies. However, while ICSs and health organisations already engage and utilise several sources of information, the development of new information-sharing networks should be a key priority to expand the assessment of outcomes and improve the provision of care.

Accordingly, ICPs should seek to explore the variety of local partners and stakeholders engaged with communities whose health data does not currently feed into the system level. This is of particular consideration for systems where deprivation is unevenly distributed amongst certain demographics – but also those that experience high levels of digital exclusion.

     2. Finding new solutions to inclusion health challenges

ICSs generally face challenges meeting the health and care needs of socially or economically excluded people. This is especially true of systems that already experience high rates of economic or social deprivation. Meeting the needs of people who are socially excluded and may experience multiple overlapping risk factors as a result, is particularly challenging from a population health perspective as they may be inconsistently accounted for in health databases.

To address these groups, ICSs must work to build information-sharing relationships with third-sector organisations and local groups who may offer services to socially excluded individuals and build relationships with the communities and individuals themselves. This work should also involve regular assessments of the impact of information sharing on health outcomes among these populations. Constant collaboration with partners and stakeholders to adjust the collection of information and the provision of care and outcomes should also be prioritised.

     3. Developing novel approaches to information

Building out a network that includes partners and stakeholders engaged with underrepresented and/or excluded groups and individuals is one means to improve access to data. However, the utilisation of new forms and sources of data will also be a key consideration for ICPs. For instance, ICPs may consider exploring a ‘whole-family’ approach to care, where the knock-on impacts of health within family units are considered within a strategy.

Strategies for the use and integration of new information should also be developed in conjunction with partner organisations and designed to address the particular needs of a system. However, it is key that frameworks for information sharing remain consistent to improve collaboration between ICSs.

     4. Utilising all levels of ICS functions

Often, individuals or organisations will be better served by engaging with an ICS at the neighbourhood or place level. This is particularly important when health inequalities are considered, as outcomes may drastically differ within a health system and a lack of engagement with health authorities may serve as a blocker to the delivery of improved outcomes to a vulnerable group. Accordingly, ICPs should ensure that well-developed strategies are in place to engage at these levels, and form insights that can inform work at the neighbourhood, place, and system level.

     5. Provisioning for social care

The adult social care landscape contains a diverse range of providers. Many are small enterprises which may have competing priorities, but these organisations nonetheless have close ties to the communities and individuals they serve. They may also provide care to individuals whose needs are misunderstood or not met in traditional health care settings. As such, they are an incredibly valuable resource to ICPs, particularly those keenly engaged with finding solutions to the health inequalities faced by the socially excluded.

It will be crucial that ICPs do not come to speak for these providers, but rather serve to connect them to a broad network of information-sharing that can simultaneously improve their provision of care and deliver insights to improve health outcomes elsewhere. ICPs should, therefore, prioritise outreach to adult social care providers for the delivery of short-term solutions to health inequalities.


Carbon capture and storage: time for a change

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carbon capture

Personal comments by Jon Gibbins, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage, University of Sheffield and Director, UK CCS Research Centre, on the need for change.

Despite rapid recent advances, carbon capture and storage (CCS) has to work out how to cope with change. It would be easier if the boundary conditions for implementing CCS, e.g., fuel prices, the policies and priorities of democratically elected governments, the state of the economy, alternative energy technologies and CCS technologies themselves, let alone global pandemics and wars, didn’t vary over time.

On policy, at the turn of the century it was thought (erroneously, even then) the UK target was being part of a global contraction and convergence to a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050. By 2008, UK politicians were told that an 80 per cent reduction by 2050 would be adequate, but a decade later this had progressed to 100 per cent. And if these do not seem like big changes, a look at the allowable residual emissions tells a different story.

Moving goalposts

It would also be good, for everyone and not just for the CCS industry and researchers, if what actually needed to be done to avoid dangerous climate change didn’t change too, but change in that direction is now much more predictable than variations in government policies.

IPCC analyses have been showing for some time that global net-negative emissions are almost inevitable in the second half of the century to limit warming to 1.5 degrees and the amount of negative emissions that will be required, and their inevitability, obviously rises as each year of high global emissions goes by.

Policy still has to catch up on this, perhaps partly because a world trying to pull previous generations’ CO2 back out of the atmosphere, while also coping with warming and the costs of ‘adaptation’, will definitely consider, and probably deploy, some form of solar radiation management to buy time for the costly CO2 removal exercise – and to save lives.

It has been said that there is some constancy in policy because CCS has continued to be recognised as a priority over the last 20 years, but what CCS is expected to consist of, and to do, has actually changed in many ways.

For example, enhanced oil recovery, sometimes called utilisation, has come and gone as the big driver. Coal power plants were thought to be the only CCS application for many years – we had to fight to get support for gas CCS in the UK 2010 Energy Act – but are now (for the time being anyway) currently unimaginable in the UK.

The UK CCS Research Centre also had a struggle to get capture from industry on the funding map about a decade ago and direct air capture has only very recently – and probably still only partially – escaped from being branded as ‘geoengineering’ by the Royal Society and as morally hazardous by a number of vocal commentators.

The sector needs agility

All of this makes implementing CCS technology, which mostly relies on getting first-of-a-kind, technically and commercially, megaprojects to a positive final investment decision and then to timely and successful operation, very difficult. But this is the way things are. It is not much use complaining about change to politicians dealing with ‘events’ and no use at all complaining to the climate about its response to the CO2 we are dumping into the atmosphere.

The key is recognising, if not embracing, the need for a responsive CCS sector and designing infrastructure development, and research, development and deployment plans, to be able to cope, adequately at least, with a wide range of situations. Building in optionality needs to be explicitly valued to achieve this, founded on a healthy scepticism about the predictability of future conditions.

At the time of writing this introduction we are waiting to see which UK Track 1, Phase 2 CO2 capture projects get selected to go on to the next stage of preparing for FID. It will be interesting to conjecture how robust to change this selection appears to be – and more than interesting, since it affects global wellbeing, how robust to events it actually turns out to be.

A version of this article was originally published in the UKCCSRC Newsletter for July, 2022,


The Health and Social Care Committee’s report on the care workforce; what is missing?

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social care workforce

On 25th July, the Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC) published their report, Workforce: recruitment, training and retention in health and social care.

The report calls for the government to provide its workforce plan for the NHS and social care (promised in spring 2022 but still not yet published), and provides several practical recommendations for the plan. Refreshingly, large sections of the report focus specifically on the social care workforce; a workforce often ignored in conversations around health and care.

The report appropriately recognises the gravity of the situation facing the social care sector, stating that, in comparison to the NHS, “the situation is regrettably worse in social care”, referencing incredibly high staff vacancy and turnover rates and poor working conditions.

Key recommendations in the HSSC report regarding the social care workforce include:

  • Higher baseline pay for care workers, reflecting the true value to society of the services they provide
  • Sustainable strategies in terms of pay progression, professional development, and career pathways
  • Contract choices offered to care workers on zero-hours contracts
  • A call for the government to produce an externally validated care certificate, provided at no cost to care providers, and is transferable between care providers and the NHS

While the report makes some promising recommendations, it falls short in several areas. Today (26th July), Public Policy Projects (PPP) has launched its report, The Social Care Workforce: averting a crisis.

This report was based on two roundtables with PPP’s Social Care Policy Network, held in May 2022, made up of key stakeholders in the adult social care sector and a lived experience panel (comprising five individuals with first-hand experience of the social care system). While many of the conclusions and recommendations of the HSCC’s report have parallels in PPP’s report, PPP highlights further areas that the workforce plan should address.

A fairer deal for the social care workforce

The reports from HSCC and PPP are broadly aligned regarding their sentiments and recommendations around pay for care workers. It is evident that care workers must be paid more, and equivalent to, their NHS counterparts.

Both reports therefore include recommendations advocating increases to the baseline pay for care workers, to reflect the true value that care workers bring to society and reduce the number of care workers leaving for better paid jobs in retail, hospitality, or elsewhere. Both reports also agree that there must be pay progression in the care sector in line with that of the NHS Agenda for Change pay scale, providing opportunities for care workers to be paid fairly and to advance their careers.

The two reports agree that terms and conditions, as well as pay, must be improved for social care workers. They acknowledge that zero-hours contracts can provide instability for many adult social care workers, and that care workers do not tend to enjoy the same pension options, sick pay or overtime renumeration as equivalent NHS workers, nor do they receive the public admiration or ‘sweeteners’ (including NHS staff discounts offered by many businesses).

It is no secret that the social care sector is severely underfunded. In order to appropriately pay care workers, both reports agree that local authorities must be appropriately funded to provide the fair cost of care to providers, to ensure that self-funders are not subsidising the cost of workers’ wages. This will require substantial investment from government.

However, PPP’s report provides several additional recommendations for the elevation of the social care workforce. Crucially, PPP’s report focuses on the need for an elevation in the status of care work, to raise the profile of those working in care. The report notes the boost in public sentiment towards nursing that followed Florence Nightingale’s work during the Crimean war, and stresses the need for a similar shift to take place for care work. Not only would this ‘Nightingale shift’ boost staff morale, PPP’s report argues that it would help to address recruitment and retention issues, provided it is accompanied by improvements to pay and conditions.

To kickstart this ‘Nightingale shift’, PPP’s report recommends that the government should provide investment for positive advertising campaigns for social care careers, with clear messaging of the immense value of a career in care and its potential to transform lives. In conjunction with this, it recommends that care providers should be working with careers advisors in schools to promote care work to young people as an attractive and fulfilling career.

Another recommendation in PPP’s report, which was not addressed by the HSCC report, is the potential creation of cross-sector roles between health and care, as well as placements and secondments of NHS staff into social care. This would help raise the status of social care by actualising a parity of esteem between the NHS and social care workforces. It would also serve to increase the awareness and visibility of the social care system within the NHS, and aide in the integration of the workforces.

More training is not a panacea

Training was highlighted as a key area in the HSCC report. However, PPP’s Social Care Policy Network argues in the report that extra workforce training should not be conflated with the wider issues around attracting and retaining staff. PPP’s Lived Experience Panel were at pains to express that constant training and annual training renewal is often a poor use of time and resources and cannot be a substitute for meaningful sector reform.

Where PPP’s report addresses training is in their recommendation around the proposed Social Care Leaders Scheme, dubbed the ‘Teach First’ of social care. The care sector is in need of strong leadership, as registered managers are not always sufficiently prepared or trained for a job that carries substantial responsibility.

The Social Care Leaders Scheme, proposed by a steering group of leaders from the social care sector convened by the CareTech foundation, aims to attract high calibre talent to the sector by training bright university graduates for leadership roles in social care, emulating the successful Teach First model. The report calls for the government to reconsider its position on the partial funding of the scheme, which promises to elevate the sector, provide attractive careers, and improve leadership structures.

The HSCC report also focuses on mandatory Care Certificates, which should be offered, at no cost, to care providers, and are transferrable between care providers and the NHS. This is undoubtedly a sensible recommendation, and PPP’s report further recommends the establishment of a Royal College of Care Professionals. The institution of a Royal College would serve the dual purpose of professionalising the workforce and secure an elevation in its status, as well as providing a central body which can represent, support, and oversee the development of, the care workforce.

Finally, the report by the HSCC makes no mention of a vital section of the care workforce: volunteers. PPP finds that volunteers can greatly alleviate the burden on social care professionals and improve the experience of recipients of care. It is essential that volunteers are included in the workforce equation.

PPP recommends that the volunteer sector should be integrated into the workforce strategy and planning for social care, given the substantial value it provides. Further, it warns that the government must act soon to seize upon the enthusiasm for volunteering that built up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For a truly comprehensive workforce plan which will truly elevate social care and reduce the immense pressure on the sector, these recommendations must, too, be incorporated. For more information on the report, please contact PPP’s Social Care Policy Analyst, Mary Brown, at


Innovation in the Food Supply Chain Roundtable 2 – Unlocking the potential of R&D and building implementation pathways for growth

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agritech sector

While there is a broad consensus that the UK needs to improve the efficiency of its food system – and that the implementation of novel technologies in farming practices and across the food system is the most efficient route – it is unclear how to make this happen. While the UK is a global R&D power, too often new advances have not made it far enough along the innovation pathway to be implemented in commercial practices in the UK.

According to NFU Mutual, only 14 per cent of farmers in the UK plan to invest in AgriTech in 2022. This lack of investment can be partially attributed to the broad impacts of Brexit, COVID-19 and supply chain disruptions. However, pre-pandemic trends would indicate that the agricultural sector specifically has a problem moving technologies along the innovation process – a problem that has been attributed to a supposed luddism amongst the UK’s farmers by some, and the alleged impracticality of upgrading working farms by others.

At the second roundtable of the Innovation in the Food Supply Chain series, Public Policy Projects hosted representatives of DEFRA, DIT, the NFU, The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the UK’s agricultural research institutions and its AgriTech centres to discuss how to solve that problem. Panel members offered a variety of perspectives, with a broad consensus emerging that the UK needs to reframe its approach to innovation – and do so with an understanding of the unique challenges of the UK’s food system.

Reframing the innovation pathway

While speakers expressed that the UK’s ongoing success developing new technologies should be celebrated, there was an acknowledgment that schemes to drive implementation and adoption are lacking. As one speaker suggested, “we are much better at invention than innovation.”

The UK’s agricultural sector has received a boost in recent years from the Transforming Food Production Challenge, which “was all about investing in precision data and data rich approaches to drive the industry on a trajectory towards net zero.” This scheme has been followed by others, such as the new Dairy Farming Innovation Programme, which forms an important part of the Agricultural Transition Plan.

However, while policymakers are aware of the need to “help farmers use science and innovation to develop solutions for the practical challenges the agricultural and horticultural sectors now face,” several contributors suggested that reframing understandings of innovation pathways would be key to accelerating progress.

While the food sector remains relatively disparate across all its sectors, division in the development of AgriTech typically occurs between roles. Farmers, SMEs, tech developers, distributors and retailers each have different priorities and interests. While farmers have an active interest in helping develop technology that can improve their practices, they undertake a huge commercial risk by participating in the development. As one contributor acknowledged, “if I am on a farm, every time I put something on the ground, I want to know it is going to come up and I am going to get yield. I cannot trial an untested product, so it is not surprising that growers are risk averse in this sector.”

Nonetheless, field tests (particularly those within a commercial setting) are key to the development of agricultural technologies – and the UK’s highly-varied terrain means that widespread participation will be key to getting the commercial feedback needed to bring new food products of technologies to the marketplace. One contributor remarked “I want to know does it work in all geographies? Does it work in different soil types? Does it work over rotations, over several seasons?”

Enabling better trials

The inability to conduct trials at scale poses a serious risk to the UK’s AgriTech sector. As one contributor commented, “it takes a lot of time, effort, and money” to develop a product or service. The difficulty of establishing an effective and efficient trialling system is furthered by how disparate and unclear many of the existing networks for this sort of testing are. These systems, run by the AHDB, DEFRA, and the various AgriTech centres, play a fundamental role in helping connect the right parties and provide clarity on the complex system of grants and funding, but they currently operate fragmentedly.

This leaves the UK without the ability to conduct nationwide trials, and often unable to offer clear pathways for innovation to the relevant parties. It also complicates the process of fostering co-operation between farmers and technology developers, who currently remain disconnected. “What we’re trying to do is take those tech companies to the farmers and say, ‘these are the problems they have got. Do you have anything that will solve it?’ And, in doing so, we are trying to foster a sort of co-developing and co-owning ethos.”

Continuing, the contributor noted that programs working to bring the two parties together “really worked and the enthusiasm and engagement was amazing,” and their impact could grow were those systems in closer contact. Indeed, another speaker noted that, “every time I put a photograph out with a robot, somebody asks me if it’s completely operational commercial, can they buy one now?”

The total consolidation of these systems, however, may not be the solution. Innovation pathways need to be flexible, as the development of novel technologies does not occur linearly. “People dip in and out of [the innovation pathway] all the way along this process.”
Additionally, while the status of the devolved nations poses a concern from the perspective of some policy frameworks – the recent gene-editing bill, for instance, would apply to England but not Wales – many contributors agree that “our regional climate should be a framework for us to think about priorities regionally.”

Such a system of interactive regional organisations is not without precedent. “In Canada and other countries, you have a collaborative system where provinces are effectively taking on the responsibility for policy and operation and have to work together.” Furthermore, as one contributor suggested, “if you can’t link up over your home nations, how much can you actually capitalise on [the UK’s role as an R&D leader] in the long run, and what does that mean for your commercial markets?”

Bringing information sharing into the 21st century

Establishing those linkages will require a revision to “a 20th century model,” as one contributor described. While community forums, farm meetings and the press are useful tools to disseminate information, a shift towards a greater emphasis on translational research methods that utilise “data that is generated in in the field” is likely to help accelerate and facilitate collaboration.

However, developing new organisational methods to ensure the variety of data collected can be processed and used to add value will be key. There is a lot of data out there. Speaking purely from a farming point of view, it is in at least a dozen different formats, plus on paper plus in the mind of the farmer. So, the data in theory is there, it is how it is mobilised that poses challenges. Continuing, the contributor noted that parties “further along the supply chain really want to understand what the scope three emissions of food production.” While that interest presents “huge opportunities,” however, “data needs to flow as well.”

It could also engender trust between farmers and researchers as “farmers can actually shape research because they’re actually the people that are creating the data upon which the science is being carried out.” However, “there is a need for fundamental good research and we shouldn’t put that at risk with the idea that the only answer is to collaborate very closely with farmers, at the expense of fundamental and rigorous science.”

Alongside a greater emphasis on translational research, “we need to recognise something that is a bit unique in the farming sector. Most natural learning happens in the farming community by peer networks.” The newly proposed food strategy and Evidence for Farming Initiative recognise this feature of the industry and utilise existing peer networks to start dialogues around new technologies and the broader task of reaching net zero – building on the legacy of COVID-19, which has made “farmers much more accessible than they ever were before.”

These programs could be made more effective, however, by integrating them into systems using translational research – and gaining a greater appreciation for the complexity and fragmentation within those networks themselves. As one contributor stated, “I am guilty of putting farmers into the same bucket banks, but what we have is quite a complex demographic in what is quite a fragmented industry. We traditionally cut it by sector and region and our own organisations, but those boundaries do not necessarily work.”

Looking beyond agriculture

Further integrating translation approaches to data will not, however only benefit the agricultural sector. Within manufacturing, one contributor pointed out that while manufacturing has broad needs for new technology (particularly to contribute to automated processes) “a lot of the sector is not circulating the data to know what automation they need within their own companies.”

Similarly, developing networks to improve access to information within the sector is also likely to have a major impact. Already the Scottish FDF office has seen success from its newly established disruptor group, “where all the chief engineers from some of their big companies get together every month and they talk about new technologies they’re hearing about, and then take that back to their factories and see how they can implement it.”

These sorts of initiatives are likely to be of benefit to each sector subsumed within the UK’s food system – however it will be key that they themselves are integrated in some capacity, or are, at least, able to interact with one another effectively. This is particularly true as one contributor noted that many major players in the food manufacturing industry “when it comes to automation, are quite content with the progress that is being made within the processing factories, indoors. It is the in the field automation which is the real challenge for them.”

Supporting systemic change

The reframing of innovation in agricultural and manufacturing settings will require increases in investment and skilled personnel.

Particularly within the agricultural space, existing frameworks for the financing of innovation currently exclude smaller SMEs – limiting their scope for development. One contributor stated, “one of the main vehicles that we have for scaling up research into outcomes with the commercial sector are through grants. These grants operate through schemes where a certain percentage of investment for the project must come from the private sector. That determines the size of the project and the amount of the research that can be carried by that project. That means if you are a small industry, and you cannot make a substantial contribution, then you are going to end up with a small project.” Continuing, they noted that “there’s a gap with smaller SMEs and their opportunity to scale, and we need to come up with investment schemes or proposal schemes where they can participate.”

There is also a clear need to expand the available talent pool within the sector. “Developing the CPD and apprenticeships and making sure that we have a really strong professional framework” will be key to ensuring that “once we have that technology on board, we have the skill set to actually use that technology and make the most of it.” Additionally, while the use of programs such as LMI for All are a key tool for employers, and should remain so for the long-term, novel approaches to collecting and sharing data on the platform will be needed to maximise its utility. As one contributor noted, “we’re taking examples from New Zealand, Australia on how they have a very kind of holistic approach to LMI,” and a continued interest in finding and implementing best practice will need to become culturally embedded within the sector.

International outreach will also be a key consideration for the collection and optimisation of data. One contributor noted that while their organisation has access to a broad network of facilities spanning four continents, they still feel they lack sufficient resource to collect the data they need. Continuing to support international collaboration and knowledge sharing networks will, as such, be a key consideration in reference to any domestic food system reform.

However, the most fundamental form of support will come in the form of a clear strategy that sets out priorities for the sector. As one contributor noted “We need to be a bit clearer about where our key priority markets are internationally, and where our big bets are in terms of where we want to invest in R&D and innovation.” While innovation pathways and funding schemes must remain flexible – and may benefit from a regional focus – there is a clear need for a sense of direction for the entirety of the sector. “We should be placing big bets and turbocharging investments in particular technologies or particular mission.”

The Innovation in the Food Supply Chain series is an ongoing closed roundtable series. If you are interested in participating, please contact either or Following the conclusion of the series this autumn, the full Innovation in the Food Supply Chain series will be published.


International approaches to carbon management

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Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) and carbon removals are important technologies for the decarbonisation of the energy sector in the long-term.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has previously stated that CCUS “is a necessity and not an option”.

On Tuesday 12th July 2022, Public Policy Projects (PPP) hosted a webinar with representatives of the United States, South Korea and the European Union to discuss how carbon capture and carbon removal infrastructure and technologies are progressing in their respective countries, while also looking at barriers around deployment and policy.

Carbon management in the United States

Brad Crabtree, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management at the United States Department of Energy (DOE) was representing the United States at PPP’s webinar. He defined the recent $12 billion USD investment in carbon management over five years in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity for carbon management in the US.” This currently stands as the largest national investment in carbon management in the world.

The $12 billion funding includes $100 million for the Carbon Capture Technology Program, up to $2.5 billion for Carbon Storage Validation and Testing, $310 million for the Carbon Utilization Program, $3.5 billion for Regional Direct Air Capture Hubs and $115 million for the DAC Technology Prize Competition.

Mr Crabtree argued that one of the most important aspects of the Infrastructure Law is that it formally places the large-scale commercial demonstration of technology under the auspices of the DOE’s research and development programme. “One of the recurring themes over those 20 years, both in the United States and in Europe, was the need to expand research and development to supporting early commercial demonstration of technologies, and we finally broke through with the Infrastructure Law,” he said.

There are 12 commercial scale carbon capture projects operating in the United States today, most of those in sectors that produce highly concentrated streams of CO2. These new investments will help bring commercial deployment into areas such as power generation and heavy industry, where lower concentration streams of CO2 are produced. These are typically more challenging and costly to capture and manage.

Clean Air Task Force, a national and international NGO, commissioned the Rhodium Group to look at which provisions in the infrastructure bill on carbon management were already enshrined in law, as well as those already being implemented together with this tax credit package. This was to establish what those investments would result in from a deployment standpoint. They estimated that, if the full investment potential of the bill is realised, accounting for enhanced tax incentives and federal investment into projects and technology, the US could see between 210-250 million tons of CO2 captured annually, by 2035.

Mr Crabtree also highlighted that, alongside the country’s commitment of meeting the climate goals of net zero by 2050, the Biden administration is ensuring that a significant portion of the investments, up to 40 per cent, goes to disadvantaged communities. These investments will particularly focus on those communities that are proximate to the major facilities that are set to be retrofitted.

“We are taking real, measurable action to reduce traditional pollutants in communities,” Mr Crabtree added. “At the same time, we want to make sure that they have access to workforce development, job training and other opportunities so that they have the skill sets to take advantage of some of the high wage jobs that will be created by these many projects funded under the Infrastructure Bill.”

Carbon capture and removal in South Korea

Bong-Yong Jeong, Director at the K-CCUS Association spoke about South Korea’s current progress on carbon capture and carbon removal.

Speaking at the National Assembly in October 2020, South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced South Korea’s ambition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. South Korea considers CCUS technology an essential tool to achieve both South Korea’s 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution and 2050 carbon neutrality goals. Specifically, South Korea aims to reduce emissions by 10.3 million tonnes through CCUS by 2030. “Most scenarios used by Korea to determine net zero pathways contain an important role for CCUS,” said Mr Jeong. Because of that, the country is committed to accelerating the development and demonstration of CCUS technologies.

Addressing PPP’s audience, Mr Jeong set out the key policy initiatives that guide South Korea’s approach to carbon neutrality: continuous demonstration of CCUS technology, strengthening efforts to secure offshore CO2 storage and promoting development for CO2 utilisation. He also stressed the importance of South Korea’s CCS Demonstration Program, arguing that these projects are “critical to learning and improving the large-scale deployment of CCUS”.

Above: South Korea’s CCUS Demonstration Program

Mr Jeong further argued that the objective of the roadmap is to achieve technological competitiveness through technical improvements and innovation for CCUS-based products. “By 2030, it aims to form an initiative to see a product market and achieve the commercialisation of CCU technologies. The roadmap also sets a goal of cost competitiveness by 2040,” he concluded.

A key demonstration project currently underway in South Korea is the East Sea CCS Project, which is expected to inject and store 400,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. The project aims to demonstrate the feasibility, safety and efficiency of middle-scale CCUS in South Korea.

Finally, Mr Jeong touched upon the importance of having the right partnerships so that “the unnecessary barriers to CCUS are removed and the deployment can be accelerated”. The South Korean government is also working to reform various complex pieces of legislation that can apply to CCUS projects, with the objective being the enactment of single, integrated CCUS policy. The policy, argued Mr Jeong, will be comprehensive and aim to streamline all aspects of the CCUS value chain.

The EU’s approach to carbon capture and removal

Speaking on behalf of the EU was Emilien Gasc, Climate Attaché of the EU Delegation to the UK. The European Union has been interested in carbon capture and carbon removals for quite some time. However, Mr Gasc argued that the real watershed moment was the Climate Law in early 2020 as it formalised and mandated the concept of negative emissions in the EU.

“Whatever we do in this sector must not distract from the mitigation efforts at source, and it must also do no harm to biodiversity,” argued Mr Gasc. “We will sponsor and support projects that yield the most co-benefits – social co-benefits, but also biodiversity,” he added.

Mr Gasc continued by setting out the EU’s priorities, stating that the first one remains reducing fossil carbon use by 95 per cent by 2050, followed by a focus on the residual 5 per cent by favouring recycling carbon from waste, sustainable biomass, or air.

A timeframe for EU priorities on CCUS:

  • Short-term: identify solutions for carbon farming, foster new industrial value chain for sustainable CCUS, fund demonstrators
  • Mid-term: learn from demonstrators, create EU framework for the certification of carbon removals based on robust accounting rules
  • Longer-term (post-2030): further integration of carbon removals into the EU regulatory and compliance frameworks

Mr Gasc followed this by touching on an important challenge for the EU: CO2 storage. Europe has 300 Gt of theoretical CO2 storage potential; however, it is not uniformly distributed. “Another challenge relates to the level of acceptance; not every EU member state is on the same wavelength on this. Some of them are opposed to storage, others not necessarily so,” he said. Mr Gasc recognised that when creating an open market, the EU will need to acknowledge these difficulties, and enable those with domestic issues around carbon storage to still participate in the EU’s CCUS market.

Perhaps the biggest announcement in the EU’s December 2021 paper was the notion of a regulatory framework for CO2 removal. The EU acknowledges that “any future climate policy will need to be credible, and for this, we need reliable definitions and guarantees in terms of environmental integrity,” Mr Gasc said.

He concluded by saying that although the EU acknowledges the substantial technical challenges, it will propose an EU regulatory framework for certification of carbon removal by the end of 2022. At the same time, the EU believes that a number of viable, scalable solutions for carbon capture already exist, particularly in the agricultural sector.

Regarding supporting other countries, Mr Gasc explained that currently, the EU’s top priority is to develop its own regulatory framework, which can then be used as a benchmark for collaboration abroad. This is a similar approach that the EU has also employed with the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism.

Collaborative solutions for a common goal

Although there is a significant gap between how much carbon the world is currently capturing and what is required to meet the IPCC’s climate targets the speakers on this webinar demonstrated that there is tangible and significant progress underway. Capturing and removing carbon from the atmosphere in accordance with IPCC targets can only be achieved if countries work together to share best practice and seek collaborative solutions to this common goal.

To learn more about the future of carbon capture and removal, PPP are hosting a webinar on Monday, 25th July, The future direction of carbon capture and carbon removal. Registration is free and can be found here.

Government is falling short on its commitments to the rare disease community – new report

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Rare disease community

A new report from Public Policy Projects (PPP) has found that standards of care for those living with rare diseases in the UK fall below government commitments set out in its England Rare Diseases Action Plan 2022.

  • New report calls for the government to do more to rebalance equity of care for the rare disease community  
  • The UK currently falls outside of the top 20 European countries by number of conditions for which it screens, with the heel prick test only screening for nine conditions  
  • Report is the culmination of over 10 hours of discussion between February and May 2022, among more than 60 participants, and case study submissions  

A new report from Public Policy Projects (PPP) has found that standards of care for those living with rare diseases in the UK fall below government commitments set out in its England Rare Diseases Action Plan 2022. The report also finds that, despite recent progress in developing rare disease frameworks and Action Plans, the UK is falling behind other comparable countries in the diagnosis and treatment of rare diseases.   

The report, A Fairer Future, does acknowledge recent government commitment to deepen understanding of specific conditions and increase the development of treatment and drugs. These commitments include increased funding into Genomics England’s Newborn Genomes Programme and the creation of the NHS Genomics Service.  

A Fairer Future also calls for greater attention to be given to rare diseases with non-genetic causes. While recent funding increases for genomics research is welcome, a too narrow focus on genetically caused rare disease will fail to address wider population needs on rare diseases, resulting in a standard of care below government ambitions.  

The report argues that policy must reflect the needs of all those who live with rare diseases and conditions, noting that the size of the UK’s rare disease community would collectively amount to the second most populous city in the UK. Also among the report’s recommendations are calls to widen the availability of Whole Genome Sequencing, to expand the number of conditions which are screened for, and to increase awareness among the healthcare workforce and public of the Genomic Medicine Service.   

Recommendations include:   

  1. As the Genomic Medicine Service is rolled out it is essential that healthcare professionals, including the anti-natal and neo-natal workforce, be informed on the impact this may have on newborn babies and those exhibiting symptoms. This is to ensure expecting mothers and new parents, are provided with appropriate time to familiarise themselves with the service and potential options available to them.   
  2. The list of conditions currently screened for, using the heel-prick test, should be expanded by the National Screening Committee to include those such as Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Type 1, for which a gene therapy exists. This should occur in addition to the ongoing Newborn Screening Programme. It should be a commitment that this aim be met before the completion of the Newborn Screening Programme, run by Genomics England (GEL), in 2025.   
  3. Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) in newborns may result in a potential 3000 more patients entering the healthcare system every year. It is essential that in ongoing consultations the system be prepared to absorb those diagnosed. The implications upon clinical services to respond and develop timely care plans must be considered, to ensure newly diagnosed patients and families to not end up on disproportionally long waiting lists.  
  4. To harness widespread engagement and raise awareness of rare diseases beyond the healthcare ecosystem, the conversation must be rephrased. A collaborative and cross-sectoral recasting of public perception and understanding through the lens of ‘population health impact and intervention’, should work towards harnessing an understanding of the health impacts of rare diseases beyond those directly affected.  
  5. Universities, Royal Colleges, Health Education England, and other professional bodies and academic institutions should promote the upskilling and further education of their students and healthcare professionals. It is also essential that these be completed by key decisionmakers within the health service, for example those allocating resource for commissioning services, to ensure impact is felt across the health ecosystem. These may be delivered through virtual and in-person workshops.  
  6. Living with a rare disease places substantial strain on mental health. In anticipation of the reforming of the Mental Health Act, a focus on effectively integrating mental health services and support into rare disease services is essential. Not only for the individual living with the rare disease or condition, but for their family and carers as well.  
  7. Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) in newborns may result in a potential 3000 more patients entering the healthcare system every year. It is essential that in ongoing consultations the system be prepared to absorb those diagnosed. The implications upon clinical services to respond and develop timely care plans must be considered, to ensure newly diagnosed patients and families to not end up on disproportionally long waiting lists.  
  8. Universities, Royal Colleges, Health Education England, and other professional bodies and academic institutions should promote the upskilling and further education of their students and healthcare professionals. It is also essential that these be completed by key decisionmakers within the health service, for example those allocating resource for commissioning services, to ensure impact is felt across the health ecosystem. These may be delivered through virtual and in-person workshops.  
  9. Living with a rare disease places substantial strain on mental health. In anticipation of the reforming of the Mental Health Act, a focus on effectively integrating mental health services and support into rare disease services is essential. Not only for the individual living with the rare disease or condition, but for their family and carers as well.  


Dr Shehla Mohammed, Consultant and Paediatric Clinical Geneticist, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, and Project Co-Chair said: “It has been a privilege to work with and learn from so many colleagues across so many disciplines over the past six months. We thank them for their enthusiastic participation and for their wise and insightful contributions. The report is a unique endeavour to articulate the key role of the patient voice in Rare Diseases. It offers a set of pragmatic and realistic recommendations which come from patients and those caring for them to ensure sharing knowledge and good practice can provide equitable access to diagnosis, management and treatment. We are optimistic that this will enable realisation of the key priorities of the UK Rare Diseases Framework which can meet the needs of those with living with rare diseases and for their families.”   

Alastair Kent OBE, Independent Patient Advocate, and Project Co-Chair said: “Recent scientific progress in our understanding of rare diseases at the molecular level has been unprecedented. Listening to the experiences of patients and families affected by these conditions has been essential., enabling new knowledge to be translated into innovative therapies and improved services and support. Putting patients and families at the heart of this process values their expertise and experience and helps speed progress.  The production of this PPP report has been led by the views of patients and families from the outset, ensuring it is realistic, relevant and robust in the conclusions it draws and the recommendations it puts forward.”   

Daniel Lewi, Business Development – Rare Disease, Cognitant; and, Co-Founder and Chief Executive, CATS Foundation said: “The report has highlighted the fact that education about rare disease should not only focus on the patient and their family, but also include health care professionals. We need to start this process collectively so that we can empower patients to take control of their own health which will ultimately enable them to become their own advocate.”   


Social care transformation and technology: accelerating digital progress

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social care

On 22nd June 2022, Public Policy Projects (PPP) hosted a roundtable entitled A Care System for the Future: Digital Opportunities and the Arrival of Caretech. The discussion saw PPP’s Social Care Network explore some of the challenges around digitising and integrating care, as well as the roles of government and the social care sector in facilitating the transformation towards a technology-driven, but person-led, social care system.   

According to the government, only 40 per cent of social care providers have electronic care records, many of the remainder relying largely on paper records. The government, in its white paper, People at the Heart of Care¸ has committed investment upwards of £150 million to drive this figure up to 80 per cent, however the sector as a whole lags behind the NHS and systems in comparable countries in its use of administrative and assistive technology.  

Following the establishment of integrated care systems, and given that public engagement with digital technologies is at an all-time high, there is now a unique opportunity to transform how technology is used to deliver social care. 

Basic information – a right, not a privilege

The discussion began by acknowledging a fundamental problem of the current social care system – the lack of basic information sharing between care providers, those in receipt of care, and those family members or friends who want to oversee the care being provided.  

Multiple participants were keen to stress that it should be considered a basic right for people to know who is entering their, or their loved one’s home, particularly when they are being billed for the service.  

“There are a plethora of platforms out there but providers who implement them configure them differently.”

This is particularly important for those receiving domiciliary care, typically the elderly or those with disabilities. As one Network member explained, people should have a right to know “who will be my carer today, will they arrive on time, and if not, when will they arrive?”. The relatives of those receiving care also want to know “when did the carer arrive, what did they do, and how is my loved one?”  

Different care providers have different electronic communications systems, if they have them at all, but it was commonly agreed that open communication between carers and families is not a typical feature of the various systems in place. There is also little interoperability between these systems. It was explained that “there are a plethora of platforms out there but providers who implement them configure them differently, in ways that make sense to them.”  

Furthermore, where direct records do exist, they are often not completed until the end of the workday, so there is little scope to adapt to changes in care provision or the circumstances of those receiving care. It was discussed that, regardless of any innovations that are implemented, the government should “probably mandate a minimum level of data that care providers must ensure is available,” including who arrived to provide care, when they arrived, and what actions were taken.

Cultural and practical shifts

A common excuse for not implementing technology into social care, and especially adult social care, is that end users do not understand the technology, and therefore implementing it is not worth attempting.

However, it takes little imagination to conceptualise the benefits that technology could bring to those receiving care. As one member summarised, “assistive communications technology can make a massive difference for those with communication issues, for those with learning disabilities. It can completely open up the world and transform the quality of their lives.”

“We’ve got quite an undeveloped marketplace in terms of engaging older people with technology.”

On this subject, it was agreed that much of the technology that could make a real improvement to people receiving care does exist, for example, smartwatches, or Amazon’s Alexa. Increasing the care sector’s use and acceptance of such technologies will therefore require cultural shifts among end users and policy makers but also the market.

One participant noted that “we’ve got quite an undeveloped marketplace in terms of engaging older people with technology. We haven’t thought of it in the same kind of way as other countries about how you make tech accessible.” On solutions such as smartwatches, which can monitor vital signs and notify somebody about a noteworthy change, the same member commented that “the best way to market them seems to be to show a man in his twenties running in a forest, rather than somebody older, living independently at home who can use it to connect with family.”

“Personal budgets are a massive area where individuals can be facilitated to actually access technology.”

Many platforms currently in operation are also not designed with end-users in mind; as one participant noted, many elderly people “can struggle even with mobile phones,” while electronic records are often “badly presented – they have phone-sized screens to look at the data and it’s difficult for people to comprehend.”

The Network agreed that more must be done to provide the necessary technology, (tablet computers or voice activated technology) to those who need it, and there are mechanisms already in place to achieve this. “Personal budgets are a massive area where individuals can be facilitated to actually access technology,” commented one Network member.

The Network agreed that changes in attitudes towards technology should be encouraged among the general population; it was suggested that a public awareness campaign, as well as real efforts to ensure data security, should be undertaken to help people understand precisely why providing their data is important to help raise the standards and accountability of care. The experiences of the pandemic and the success of the NHS App were cited as proof that once people are sufficiently educated and can see the value of providing their data, gaining their informed consent is relatively easy.

Bridging the trust gap

The Network discussed how a general lack of trust over data sharing among patients and carers, as well as doubt that technology could produce any meaningful improvements to care, is also further hindering the adoption of technology in the care sector.

One network member shared their experience of this, explaining that “when Carers UK did a focus group on the use of technology by carers, they asked carers at the start of the focus group and 7 per cent said they were interested in exploring technology. By the time we explained what the technology could do we had over 70 per cent of the carers wanting to use it, so it was very much an education issue.”

“If we start recruiting staff at a senior level…that really understand [technology], we could transform the way in which we provide care.”

This can also be partly attributed to a “massive skills gaps in the care workforce, both in the context of data analysis and the ability to install, support and maintain connection for people.” The government has committed at least £500 million over the next three years to help build out the digital skills of the social care workforce, a long-overdue and necessary step.

As is often the case, however, much of the change must begin at the top. It was agreed that “if we start recruiting staff at a senior level, to make technology and information and digital a real specialism within social care, and bring in the staff that really understand it, we could transform the way in which we provide care.”

Having digital and data expertise at a senior level will become increasingly essential as more technology is incorporated into the sector and the data it produces proliferates. A member of the Network’s Lived Experience Panel explained that any new care platforms will “create unimaginably large amounts of data that will need to be processed, shared appropriately, maintained, and kept safe and secure. It’s a Big Data problem for experts.”

The need for government guidance

It was also discussed that providers have valid cause for concern regarding investment in a technological solution that may not work as intended. One member shared their experience of a conversation with a care provider “who said they were fantastically excited about falls prevention technology that they’re introducing, but they’re absolutely terrified about what the consequences are if it doesn’t work.”

To address this, The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency could certainly assume a more prominent role, as once a solution is tested, approved and officially licensed, care providers need not fear making a needless investment into an unworkable or unnecessarily expensive technology.

Another feature of the current system is that there are “too many [technology] providers bombarding you, telling you their ‘innovative’ technology is the one to use, even if most of them replicate other systems and do nothing new.” The Network was keen to stress that this should not be seen as an attempt to stifle innovation, but to promote the development of new solutions, rather than simply replicating existing technology.

Much of this could be addressed by the provision of clear “guidelines regarding what technology is already there and what are the areas where innovation is required.” To this end, it was suggested that something like a Which? guide for existing technology should be made available.

One member then highlighted that such a guide does actually exist already, but a lack of awareness of it encapsulates the problem; “the Digital Health Alliance, working with Carers UK, did produce a guide specifically for technology for carers. Although the Department of Health and Social Care was extremely helpful in funding production of the guide, when it was time to get it on the side of buses so that people are made aware of its existence, they said ‘sorry, we can’t help’.” The Network called on the government to back up its words with actions to help raise public awareness of the beneficial role that technology could play across the health and care sectors.

A social care app

The Network discussed the creation of a single social care app, either akin to, or incorporated within, the NHS App, which was rolled out in 2019. Many of the problems identified by the Network could arguably be addressed in this way.

A major factor behind the success of the NHS App is the fact that it is a single, unified system. As one member explained, it has “28 million users because they’ve got a single system right the way across the NHS and people are buying into it. They are now integrating that with local individual services and that is forcing a significant amount of continuity and similarity between systems. We don’t have anything like that at all in the social care sector yet.”

Through a unified platform like the NHS App, all notes and communications about a patient can be logged and shared in real time, creating a single version of truth, and substantially improving standards of accountability. A single care app could also facilitate the open flow of communication between care providers and end users.

“Everything must be thought of in terms of the end user.”

Furthermore, the existence of a single, central social care app would ensure that any technology solutions that come to market are made compatible from conception, since the specifications and requirements would be a known quantity, rather than hopeful guesswork.

It was acknowledged that it could be “clunky to mandate standards from the top,” but the Network generally agreed that it probably represents the best hope for coherency across the care system. As one member elucidates, “there are myriad organisations in care, but if there was a ‘care app’, then the technology would have to fit into it, and [alignment] would happen organically.”

To ensure alignment with the needs of the sector, the involvement of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) was encouraged by one participant, while consultation with the Society for Innovation Technology and Modernisation (SOCITM) was also proposed “to work on the IT side” of developing a care app.

Whichever bodies are involved, however, the Network was unified in its belief that “everything must be thought of in terms of the end user,” and close consultation with patient representatives will be essential to ensure that any solution can ultimately fulfil the needs of its end users.

Technology driven, person-led

Above all, this session was optimistic that the social care sector is heading in the right direction, but it still lags behind the NHS on the implementation of digital technology. Even if the sector achieves the government’s target of digitising 80 per cent of records by March 2024, efforts to modernise the sector must not lose momentum.

There are clear roles for government policy to ensure greater access to technology, clearer guidance for technology and care providers, and greater support for care providers and the workforce. The Network agrees that both the government and markets must also begin to lay the groundwork for cultural shifts that increase acceptance of digital technology, both among the public and the social care workforce.

The creation of a single app for social care that is accessible, facilitates the open flow of information and can incorporate modular technology would help address many of the issues with the present system identified by the Network and the User Experience Panel.

The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on health and care are lasting and innumerable. One of the more positive of these, however, was the necessary and overdue integration of technology, typified by the success of the NHS App. The Network believes that now is the time to seize the momentum and capitalise on the greater appreciation of the role that technology can have in health and care.


Roundtable 1: Innovation in the Food Supply Chain – Do we need an AgriTech strategy?

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The introduction of a gene-editing bill to parliament on 25th May marked a monumental step in the post-Brexit era. Since 2018, it has been nearly impossible to grow gene-edited food in the EU at a commercial scale. However, now free to make its own regulations, the UK is seizing the chance to unlock its significant R&D infrastructure and reap the security and nutritional benefits of gene-editing.

But doing so will require the UK to improve the efficiency of its food supply chain. While the Food Strategy white paper promises to bring together the disparate elements of the food supply chain to support unprecedented levels of cooperation, promises of far-reaching reform are unlikely to be realised unless they themselves are supported by programmes that address the specific needs of the supply chain’s different stakeholders.

At the first roundtable of PPP’s Innovation in the Food Supply Chain series, “Do we need an AgriTech Strategy?” a panel of experts from across the food supply chain discussed how government strategy could lead to a more adaptable supply chain, and a more sustainable food system.

A fragmented food supply chain

The UK’s food supply chain does not work in unison. At its core, agriculture is driven by subsidies – which delays responses to market trends. That disconnect with the market is exacerbated by the competing interests of the supply chain’s different elements.

This would be a suboptimal status quo even in the best of times, but it is particularly troublesome now as the UK’s food system looks to improve productivity and efficiency while satisfying growing demand, dealing with a cost-of-living crisis and reducing its carbon emissions.

Without room to expand (over 70 per cent of the UK’s land mass is used by land-based industries or agricultural production) the UK must look towards technology and systemic reform to deliver change within its food system. However, given the breadth of the food supply chain – and the disparity in motives and incentives between its constituent parts – there is a real danger that sweeping reforms may fail to address specific implementation gaps. It may also undo the work of AgriTech-centred programs that are currently in place.

As such, “Do we need an AgriTech strategy?” discussed how reform could be most effectively implemented, given the various pressures faced by the supply chain. What emerged from discussions between the roundtable’s participants (which included representatives of the UK’s agricultural research institutions, each of the AgriTech centres and DEFRA, as well as members of industry) was a broad consensus that any AgriTech strategy, or its equivalent, would need to figure out how to get technology into the hands of farmers more effectively – and how to effectively integrate any strategy with other industrial initiatives.

The need for integrated strategy

Speakers identified “opportunities on the productivity side and the environmental side (i.e., reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving the quality, improving biodiversity, etc.)” for the food industry that could be better accessed with the help of AgriTech. However, absent the necessary financing and implementation structures, there was concern that too much of the technology developed in labs in the UK does not “get out on the farm.”

This has been an area of concern for DEFRA for some time now. However, while their equity strategy (published in 2013) and the Transforming Feed Production Challenge are two examples of funding programs that have helped to promote change in the industry, the impact of these efforts have been limited by a lack of auxiliary support.

In simple terms, “AgriTech doesn’t exist in isolation.” Instead, it is “a key part of, and is supported by, various other strategies.” For AgriTech, other strategies that impact agriculture, research networks, or net zero targets are all capable of affecting either the development or the rollout of new technologies to farmers – and accordingly policymaking must take these impacts into account.

It also must address the fact that currently only “a tiny percentage of farmers actually get involved in [AgriTech schemes],” by creating improved feedback networks. As such, a number of contributors acknowledged the need for “a system where there can be some coordination of the knowledge and the evidence that’s being generated by feedback systems so that we are getting knowledge and expertise back from the farmers who are involved in these projects, or just trying new things out on their farms.”

However, even accessing that sort of data would demand a level of attention to infrastructure that has up until now been remiss from a most agricultural or food strategies. Access to utilities, particularly broadband, currently poses a major impediment to not only the rollout of recent technologies, but also the creation of feedback networks to support them.

It also poses an obstacle for farmers and suppliers looking to have a more open dialogue with consumers. “Technology can really help with veracity, if you can trace everything then you do not have to be black and white with your thinking – you can have a spectrum scale [for things like organic produce]. For example, a product may not be organic, but you as the consumer could know that is only because a pesticide had to be sprayed and otherwise everything else is organic.”

The roles of government and regulation

There were also a number of calls for a sense of proportionality within regulatory frameworks. While regulation obviously can impact the market, those frameworks also need to support the development of more sustainable farming practices in realistic terms.

For example, the Precision Breeding Bill (currently in the House of Commons), states that plant varieties will qualify as precision bred if they could have been developed with conventional breeding or through natural processes – setting a high bar for farmers that many contributors felt could deter the development of precision breeding on UK farms.

Moreover, unless departments are properly equipped to assume the new responsibilities that may be assigned to them by new regulation, there is also a risk that these regulatory frameworks could slow the pace of change. There is also the matter that, as a number of contributors noted, though a variety of departments participate in the food supply chain in some form, “you end up having quite different conversations with the different departments.”

However, a keen concern was still expressed over the need for these regulations to be used intelligently to encourage industry to find new ways to monetise sustainable practices and behaviours. These regulations should also be cognisant of the international market for food. “We shouldn’t forget the sort of trade opportunities that exist, and we need to think about how we put this into the context of what the sector could offer countries overseas, as well as attracting that investment in new markets as well.”

Additionally, there were calls for government to take greater advantage of the growth opportunities within the AgriTech space – with one contributor noting that “compound annual growth rates for AgriTech and AgriTech investments are about 3 per cent.” “In the last five years, billions of dollars are coming in [to AgriTech] from people who have got nothing to do with farming. They see the potential opportunity being grasped elsewhere.”

Accordingly, there was interest expressed in the creation of a net zero timeline for the food industry. This timeline could put forward specific dates – akin to the timelines that have been offered for the phase-out of combustion engines in road vehicles. However, these dates would need to be relatively flexible, or at least adaptative to fluctuations in agricultural markets

The use of new metrics to judge the success of farms was also discussed. While productivity has traditionally been the primary driver of agricultural investment, new metrics that cover social and environmental impacts may help to give farmers and policymakers a more holistic, long-term view of a farm’s success. While these new measures may be difficult to develop and implement at first, there are tremendous upsides to utilising metrics that factor in environmental considerations alongside traditional drivers.

A mixed picture for UK AgriTech

For plant breeding and genetics “the private sector has diminished its investment in Europe, and that’s very much to Europe’s detriment.” For the UK, it means “we do not have the capacity. So [because of strong R&D networks and investment in other applications of genetic research] the UK is in this strange position of being both a leader in this space and a laggard.” As such, while universities in the UK continue to engage in world-leading research, the private apparatus to take that innovation to market currently does not exist in the UK (or at least not at the level it needs to).

The development of the private plant genetics sector in the UK will not serve a single market, however. As one contributor described it, “there are two marketplaces. One is the farm uptake of AgriTech, and then [there is the] ultimate marketplace [which] is the customer’s purchase of agricultural produce.” Accordingly, there is a need “to put more case studies forward and more and situations where farmers, and ultimately, the shoppers can actually see they see the benefits.”

As one contributor noted, the scale of change required within the agricultural and food sectors will require a “massive change of culture.” But in engendering that change of culture, it is key that the gains being made by ongoing programs are not sacrificed.

The DEFRA-led Farming Innovation Programme is investing £270 million in R&D and innovation over the course of the agricultural transition through to 2028, and the Farming Investment Fund is working to help farmers access technology that is already available on the market. These programs are already making significant impacts, and while they are limited in their efficacy by a lack of auxiliary support from other programs, the scrapping of these programs would affect short-term progress at a time when the food supply chain needs to be collectively acting with urgency.

It is a balancing act. “To maximise productivity whilst minimising any environmental damage requires a long-term vision,” however, delivering on that vision will require a keen awareness of what is possible in the short-term.



A broken agrifood system

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Agrifood encompasses the entire food supply chain, from agriculture production to food consumption. Every human is a stakeholder in the agrifood system and supply chain, as they are all elements of the natural environment.

Problems in the global food system are among the largest drivers of poverty, political and social instability, and environmental deterioration. Agriculture is something of an oxymoron, in that it is both a victim of climate change, and a key contributor to factors which result in climate change. As such, the delay of government action to curb the impact of inadequate and harmful agricultural practice, should be regarded a social and environmental injustices.

Agrifood system reform is urgently needed to ensure food security can be achieved for both the current and future global population, expected to reach 10bn by 2050. However, all possible solutions should account for the potential social, environmental and economic impacts, to avoid repeating the setbacks of the Green Revolution of the 1960s, which ultimately encouraged the widespread uptake of environmentally detrimental nitrogen fertilisers.

Substantial investment, time and willpower, as well as and cooperation of governments, policymakers, international organisations and the scientific community will all be needed to achieve such a monumental transition. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Conference of the Parties convenes representatives from these sectors from almost every country on a yearly basis, making it an apt platform upon which to discuss the reform of the agrifood system. Every year the conference’s salience increases as the effects of climate change worsen. The 27th session will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh in November 2022, and agrifood will almost certainly be at the centre of discussions.

The Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture

The Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA) was adopted at COP23 in 2017, providing an inaugural road map to address issues related to agriculture in a holistic manner, through a series of international workshops.

Considering the outcomes of these workshops at COP26 in 2021, governments considered that soil and management practices and optimal use of nutrients, as well as improved livestock management, lie at the core of climate resilient and sustainable food production systems. Governments also agreed that work needed to continue on KJWA, with the intention to make further decisions on this area at COP27. While these are important elements that need to be addressed, they should not be isolated as key solutions. A system-wide approach should be the priority at COP27.

Agrifood reform

With a food system which has been globalised, national policy reforms need to co-exist with an internationally recognised standard for agricultural practices, production, transportation, and sale of foodstuffs. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 2 and 15 – Zero Hunger and Life on Land – can act as foundations for such a standard, however it must be solidified and become the norm. This should be complemented by initiatives and policies to influence consumer behaviour towards mindful consumption and waste patterns.

Greater adoption of renewable energy across the supply chain is one such method to address climate change, sustainable agriculture and the creation of jobs. However, this should not be regarded as a panacea to reducing agriculture-related emissions. Every stage and element of the agrifood system is required to change to create synergies leading to a more sustainable, efficient, resilient and equitable food system.

Moreover, COP27 not only needs to look at how to reform the current agrifood system with respect to the supply chain, but it should also discuss extending the system to post-sale and consumption, with the aim of minimising food waste and closing the loop.

Agritech and digital farming will also play pivotal roles in reforming the agrifood system. Gene editing providing opportunities to improve crop yield and quality without the necessity of chemical fertilisers, although it does remain susceptible to public backlash and strict regulation. Bayer is at the forefront of crop science using digital technologies to drive efficiencies on the farm. However, such technology needs to be implemented across the agrifood system in order to reap the rewards, and this will require a helping hand from governments and policymakers.

Not only is mitigating the harms caused by the current agrifood system important, but recognising and making use of the fact that agriculture and natural environments acts as carbon sinks will be paramount to creating a sustainable food system. As with all novel innovations, expanding biological sequestration will rely on good policies, public-private partnerships and innovative financing opportunities which equip local organisations with the tools to efficiently implement science-based solutions.

Securing agrifood on the COP27 agenda

With the agrifood system being the backbone of global society, any threat to its stability is an issue which must not be ignored or placed on the backbench. Piecemeal and incremental changes will not be sufficient to reform the system in a suitable timeframe. Emphasising agrifood’s place on the COP27 agenda is crucial for coalescing government action, to produce a global food system that is secure and sustainable and protects natural ecosystems.