3 September 2020

Restoring productivity growth, “levelling up” and “building back better”

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Online webinar 16:00-17:00 (BST)

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Restoring productivity growth, “levelling up” and “building back better” – the role of the UK’s chemicals industry in the economy of the future

The UK went into the Covid pandemic with an economy with some profound structural weaknesses – and the post-pandemic recovery phase will put some of those weaknesses into uncomfortable focus. In this talk, I will consider the future of the UK chemicals industry - an important, and underappreciated, sector of the UK’s economy - in the context of these wider challenges.  Between the financial crisis and our current pandemic, the productivity of the UK’s economy barely increased, while persistent and gross regional disparities in economic performance across the UK have led to social and political strains. The pandemic itself has demonstrated the lack of resilience of much of the economy.

Looking forward, we need to move to a net-zero greenhouse gas economy; while the necessity of this transition is becoming more widely accepted, the scale of the change is not yet fully appreciated by policy makers.  The chemicals industry should play a very positive role in the changes that our economy needs to go through, but to fulfil this potential it will itself need to change and adapt. 


Richard Jones

University of Manchester

Richard Jones is Professor of Materials Physics and Innovation Policy at the University of Manchester; he is an experimental soft matter physicist.
His first degree and PhD in Physics both come from Cambridge University, and following postdoctoral work at Cornell University, U.S.A., he was a lecturer at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory. He was a Professor of Physics at the University of Sheffield from 1998, moving to Manchester in 2020.
In 2006 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of his work in the field of polymers and biopolymers at surfaces and interfaces, and in 2009 he won the Tabor Medal of the UK’s Institute of Physics for his contributions to nanoscience. He is the author of more than 190 research papers, and three books, Polymers at Surfaces and Interfaces (with Randal Richards, CUP 1999), Soft Condensed Matter, (OUP 2002), and Soft Machines: nanotechnology and life (OUP 2004).
He was PVC for Research and Innovation at Sheffield from 2009 to 2016, was a member of EPSRC Council from 2013 – 2018, and chaired Research England’s Technical Advisory Group for the Knowledge Exchange Framework. He was a member of the Sheffield/Manchester Industrial Strategy Commission, and has written extensively about science and innovation policy, for example in the recent report “The Missing Four Billion: making research and development work for the whole UK” (with Tom Forth, NESTA 2020).

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