We have a fine chance to touch the far horizon

Alyn discusses the opportunities for Scotland in the European Union's future funding programme for research and innovation, Horizon 2020.


Published in the Ross-shire Journal on 7th September 2012

Sometimes there’s a far horizon that looks like you can reach out and touch it – a big wide vista that seems to offer almost unlimited opportunities, hints at a better tomorrow and a better world.

Sometimes that promise needs a bit of effort to fulfill – a bit of determination, a bit of imagination to reach out and take the chance of a better life. And it’s the imaginative and dedicated people who make the best of the opportunities there are.

Scotland is opening up to new horizons. Debates on how to carry our nation forward are energising and exciting.

We’re in a time of change, a time of renewal, a time of growth.

We’ve been a nation of inventors, a nation of engineers, a nation of innovators, of scientists, of entrepreneurs, of adventurers and builders.

And it’s time to reinvent ourselves, renew our interest in adventure and discovery, our curiosity and our drive for improvement.

Europe offers that chance. Plodding its way through the European institutions at the moment is a programme for funding research and development in science and innovation.

It’s a planned, seven-year, €80 billion programme for people and businesses across the EU, including Scotland.

It will run from 2014 to 2020 and is called Horizon 2020. I call it opportunity.

Scotland’s universities, of course, will be gearing up for the challenge. They’ll all be looking at where they can bring European money into their coffers to fund their research.

But Scottish businesses can get a slice of the action too. There are special rules to allow easier access to the money for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). They are the small businesses that drive economies forward, that are the lifeblood of communities across Scotland, and rural communities in particular.

Any business, any university, any college can get involved, and can seek to access those funds.

Any Scottish organisation doing research or innovating in the prime areas will be eligible.

Imagine the impact on the economic health of a small business that a boost in research funding can bring. Imagine the improvement in the local economy if small businesses become more successful. That’s the opportunity that’s on offer.

It’s about engagement, about invention, about innovation, and about imagination.

We’re working at present in the industry, energy and research committee of the European Parliament to deliver what we think will be a simplified application process – a more streamlined funding process and faster access to funds.

After we’ve done our job in parliament, the Commission gets to work, then the member states have to agree the package. That means that the UK’s ministers will have to agree to it as well as the Swedes, the French, the Dutch, the Germans and so on.

I wish Scottish ministers were in those meetings to speak up for Scotland. I’m sure they’d do an excellent job on our behalf and that’s a debate which will be had in the referendum campaign.

It would be good to have the Scottish Government fighting for Scottish interests in Europe. But we have to play with the hand we’ve got and I’d urge everyone who thinks they’ve got a shot at getting a chunk of funding to find out about it now.

There is a new opportunity out there, a new far horizon holding out the promise of a wealth of opportunity for those with imagination and drive, with innovation and dedication.

For Scotland’s universities and colleges there’s a wide ocean of opportunity opening up – a source of funding for research, for science, for technological advances they can grab with both hands and use to grow their research bases.

For SMEs there’s the chance to build on what they have, to develop, to grow, to make their businesses more secure.

That’s the field of play; that’s what we can see ahead; that’s the far horizon; a chance to build a better tomorrow, a better world.

Scots have a proud tradition of science and innovation research. We should recapture that and use it to our advantage. In the midst of this time of energy and change we have a chance to touch that far horizon.