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UK chemical sector's R&D spending nudges all-time high at £5.4bn

Published: 25 November 2019 - Sarah Mead

The UK chemicals sector has increased its annual spending on R&D by 3.4% taking it to a seven-year high, the latest ONS data has revealed.

Chemicals businesses posted growth in R&D investment of £175m, sending the overall total climbing to £5.36bn, according to the latest statistics for 2018 released last week.

This means the industry is snapping at the heels of its all-time high of £5.43bn recorded in 2011, analysis by R&D tax relief specialist Catax shows.

The amount that UK businesses across all sectors have invested in R&D continues to grow, rising £1.4bn to £25bn in 2018 — up 5.8%.

Manufacturing was associated with £16.3bn of R&D spending, up 4.7%, but pharmaceuticals remained the biggest product group with £4.5bn of R&D spending, up 3.3%.

The telecoms sector plotted the largest percentage increase in R&D spending, climbing 25.4% to £947m.

The number of staff employed by UK businesses also continued to grow, rising 7.3% annually to exceed 250,000 full-time equivalents for the first time.

Mark Tighe, chief executive of R&D tax relief specialists Catax, said: “The chemicals industry is on a war footing when it comes to keeping Britain at the forefront of this crucial sector.

“The industry reached its all time high for R&D spending in the depths of the last great recession and is again demonstrating that economic uncertainty thanks to Brexit won’t put the shutters on innovation.

“More broadly, this is the second full year that Brexit Britain has shrugged off the political poison after the EU referendum and posted great gains in terms of R&D investment, running head and shoulders above the long-term average.

“For the first time in history a quarter of a million people nationwide are engaged full time in keeping the UK at the cutting edge. This is going to make a huge difference to Britain’s prospects outside the EU.

“The rate at which UK businesses are adding R&D staff to the workforce remains impressive, virtually matching the previous year with a rise of 7.3%.”

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