At this time of year, the sounds of returning cuckoos are often drowned out by public bodies coming out everywhere and chirping about why they need more Budget cash. The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts is singing a convincing tune: if the Treasury doesn't cough up £1bn for developing new technologies, it says, the UK economy stands to lose £44bn a year.
That warning seems to have made Gordon Brown sit up and take note. The PM has said he's considering the case for setting up ‘a bank for industry and innovation', to provide financing for riskier tech start-ups. A sound idea, but he could have chosen his words better: does the taxpayer really need yet more mention of banks and risk right now?
Semantics aside, there's a genuine urgency behind the idea: Nesta's new report reckons the financial crisis has had some potentially disastrous effects on our tech industries. Venture capital firms have apparently taken such a hit that investment in high-tech companies has dropped 70%, and the report says the UK could lose its leading international status in healthcare, green technology and digital media if the government doesn't plug the gap.
Nesta wants the government to create a £1bn pot, to be funded by taxpayers' cash and private money in equal measure, and to use its multi-billion fiscal stimulus package to support those lending to tech firms. There are certainly worse ways to spend money right now than on companies that are dynamic and innovative (and which actually make something). But once taxpayers' cash has done its work propping up the banks and sorting out our councils' Icelandic investments, it may require a particularly high-powered calculator to make the figures add up.
Brown gave his support for the idea while launching a report called 'New Industry New Jobs', which said that Government needed to recognise the impact that decisions on taxation and spending have on the development of British businesses. The Tories are trying to jump in that nest too, today announcing a £600m package to protect the next generation of scientists and engineers in the face of job threats, by funding support for masters degrees and apprenticeships. Seems like there's quite an art to keeping science alive.
In today's bulletin:
Darling Budget boost as economists see green shoots
St Albans clobbered by the taxman
Brown mulls £1bn tech Nesta egg
Using your loaf to woo customers
Foundation looks to boost skills of charity bosses