Are we still a nation of inventors and innovators?

Posted on 23 Jun 2014 by Callum Bentley

Consumers are unaware of what British inventiveness has contributed to the world and this could hinder our future ability to innovate, warns a new report.

Pioneering Great British Products has been launched today from EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, and Siemens. It says that by failing to celebrate the brains behind Britain’s life-changing inventions, the UK is failing to provide its next generation with role models and leaving young people with little reason to want to follow in their footsteps.

According to consumers, Britain’s best inventions are the telephone, TV and the jet engine. But despite these now being a common part of everyday life, four in ten (39%) are unaware that a Brit invented the phone, while little over half (54%) realise that British brains were behind the jet engine. Even the TV, ever-present in most homes, is only recognised by 57% as a British invention.

More worryingly, many seem to see British inventiveness as something in the past. Almost seven in ten (69%) are aware that the steam engine , was invented in the UK while just over two in ten (22%) are aware Britain gave the world modern-day carbon fibre too.

According to consumers, the main attribute of a great invention is that it improves quality of life (66%). Almost six in ten say that a great invention radically changes everyday life (59%), makes life easier (57%) or solves a problem (57%). Many of the things we use on a daily basis tick these boxes. However, familiarity doesn’t breed any greater recognition for its roots. Just a quarter of consumers are aware that ATM/cashpoint machines (25%) and the automatic kettle (23%) are a British claim to fame.

Top ten best British inventions People aware that they were invented by Brits
1.       Telephone[1]


2.       Television[2]


3.       Jet engine[3]


4.       Steam engine[7]


5.       Light bulb[9]


6.       Electric motor[10]


7.       Cats eyes[11]


8.       Bicycle[12]


9.       ATMs/cashpoint machines[5]


10.   Hypodermic syringe[4]


The report – due to be launched by Business Secretary Vince Cable at Liverpool’s Life Sciences University Technology College later today marks the beginning of Manufacturing, Science and Technology Week, sponsored by EEF, at the International Festival for Business in Liverpool. It looks at Britain’s strong heritage in bringing ground-breaking products to the world, while also unveiling five cutting-edge, British inventions: the AIRLANDER airship, Raspberry Pi, the SABRE engine (Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine), Seafloor Production Tools and the i-limb bionic hand.

It warns that low awareness and recognition, the speed with which people now take new technology for granted and an apparent belief that Britain’s glory days of invention are in the past, could be significant factors contributing to the skills gap today and potentially hinder Britain’s future ability to innovate.

Worryingly, this lack of recognition means that only half of consumers (51%) think that Britain is good at both inventing and manufacturing. However, the final challenge for up and coming innovators is the speed with which new inventions are taken for granted. Over half of consumers (51%) admit to taking their last cutting-edge product or gadget for granted within just a month of owning it. Almost seven in ten (69%) are over the excitement within six months.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “This report serves as a very good reminder of the UK’s considerable strengths in manufacturing, and the current revival that we’re seeing in the sector is highly encouraging. The Government is working closely with manufacturing businesses to give them the confidence to invest, securing highly-skilled jobs, a stronger economy, and more world-shaping inventions in the future.”

Terry Scuoler, CEO of EEF, says: “Inventiveness and resourcefulness are written into our collective DNA. Unfortunately, our strengths appear to be flying under the radar and this could damage our ability to innovate in the future. If we want to Make it Britain then we have to wake up Britain to the innovation, creativity and design going on within our shores today. Our success didn’t end with the steam engine – it carries on from strength to strength with carbon fibre, bionic limbs and now the hypersonic engine too. We should be proud of what our inventiveness contributes to the world.

“If Britain is to continue to innovate then we need to start shouting about our achievements. We have to ensure that everyone is aware that success lies before us and not just in the past. Above all, we must give greater recognition to our inventors and innovators, so as to encourage more young people to want to learn the right skills to follow in their footsteps.”