Move fast and remove barriers are the best things the government can do
One is to speed up governmental processes. The rapidity with which Britain's medical regulator moved during the pandemic is one reason the vaccine roll-out is racing through the population and drugs identified in Britain are saving lives around the world. Urgency is not unique to pandemics. Getting things done quickly can make an investment worthwhile and determine where an entrepreneur chooses as a base.
Another useful measure that the government should use is its unique ability to overcome barriers. At the beginning of the pandemic covid-19 researchers were, for instance, unable to gain access to different strands of health-service data. The government eased restrictions on existing data and allowed researchers to ask people who had tested positive for covid-19 to join trials. Both were crucial to the effort.
A last principle is the value of connections between the government and the private sector. Kate Bingham, a venture capitalist who led the vaccine-procurement effort, understood how to deal with drug companies. Many of the civil servants working with her had commercial experience. The government's closeness to business during the pandemic has been criticised, and perhaps some wasteful contracts were awarded to cronies. But without it, the vaccine effort would not have succeeded.
A government-commissioned review this week proposed sweeping policy changes and reform of London’s company listing regime will spark a “digital big bang” for the City and turbocharge the UK’s fintech industry. They will do well to learn from the Britain's pandemic and the related innovation successes.
Innovation took human beings from caves to computers. It is elusive stuff. Good education, a welcoming immigration regime and a friendly business environment will do most to tend it. But a few sensible principles can help keep the flame burning.