Scotland business

Not doing the business on research

Research and development is a key measure of how serious a country is about innovation, growth and developing its economy.

On that basis, Scotland's not looking all that serious. The blame for that can't be pinned on government or universities, which together punch above Scotland's weight. Of higher education spend, only Sweden and Denmark do better in spend on research and development, or R&D, as a proportion of the economy's size.

It's business that lets Scotland down badly. The poor figures released this week, and which cover 2010, show that of 24 OECD countries, only Turkey, Slovakia and Poland do less in business R&D.

Scotland's businesses spent roughly half as much, per head of population, as the UK as a whole. Of 11 nations and regions in the UK, Scotland ranks ninth. And that means the R&D total is barely more than half of the European Union's target for its members, of 3% of gross domestic product.

You could blame the downturn for the setback, but others faced a downturn too, and Scotland became relatively worse. It means the Scottish government's target of growing R&D is in trouble, as it's now a lower share of the economy than in the baseline year of 2006.

Correction: I got that last bit wrong. The share of Scotland's GDP spent on R&D rose between 2006 and 2010, but by only 0.17 percentage points. The target of closing the gap between Scotland and the European Union average was achieved, in that it closed by one hundredth of one per cent. So the Scottish government can claim it's a move in the right direction, but it's barely discernible.

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