Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are severely hampered by the levels of bureaucracy and the time it takes to navigate their way around the complicated rules and regulations surrounding research and innovation grants from the EU. That is the main conclusion of the House of Lords Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment EU Sub-Committee in its report published today, following its short inquiry into the effectiveness of EU research and innovation proposals.
Although the Committee recognises the work that the Government is already doing in introducing a better regulation agenda with the EU Commission, it is vital that, in order for British SMEs to expand and grow, progress must continue to be made.
The Committee is also encouraging the Government to continue its review of support structures for UK businesses who want to participate in EU-funded projects but have difficulty in doing so, due to their modest size and the complexity of the application process.
Chairman of the Committee, Baroness O’Cathain, said:
“Businesses all over the world are struggling to stay afloat in our current economic times and so it is more important than ever that we do what we can to support British companies in their efforts to evolve, expand and flourish.
“Having conducted our inquiry against the backdrop of the Europe 2020 strategy, which is designed to support growth and jobs, we remain convinced that that the Government has a vital role to play in continuing to help SMEs access research and innovation funding and to collaborate in EU-wide projects.
“The EU must also look at how they can make the process easier for the SMEs to get involved in these projects, given the challenges they may face in terms of size and resource.
“Throughout the ongoing negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020, the Committee has consistently advocated a greater share of a limited EU budget for investment in research and innovation and the evidence we have heard during this short inquiry has served to reinforce our belief that this is the right way forward.
“If research and innovation is to drive future economic growth across Europe, the Commission must ensure that everyone can get involved; that time and the application process are no barrier to participation and that the system builds in flexibility to take into account the wide spectrum of interested stakeholders. Only by making participation in research and innovation projects as accessible as possible can we make any headway in ensuring that Europe’s best ideas and developments are discovered, funded and eventually benefit all Member States.”
Other recommendations from the Committee include that:
- the European Commission works to reduce the time gap between grant application and receipt of funding, by simplifying the negotiation stage, the funding instruments and improving IT systems;
- more work needs to be done to ensure that the monitoring and evaluation of outputs is realistic and efficient, taking into account the relatively short timescales of the projects and their ‘blue sky’ subject matter;
- the European Commission advertises health-related consultations much more widely through relevant networks;
- the Government, professional bodies, trade associations and other groups representing UK businesses, higher education institutions and research organisations must continue to engage with and lobby pan-European organisations if the UK’s interests are to be achieved in Europe; and
- decision-makers should be empowered to use flexible funding decisions, to ensure that successful repeat players can access funding and commercialise their research.