Ex-Watchstone chief ends government's three-year search for new innovation head

Tuesday 4th May 2021 19:15 BST

Sky News has learnt that Indro Mukerjee will be named on Wednesday as the new chief executive of Innovate UK - its first permanent head since Ruth McKernan stepped down in April 2018.

Mr Mukerjee's appointment will be the latest sign of Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng's determination to end a long-running inertia in the appointment of bosses at public bodies overseen by his department.

Innovate UK, which employs 500 people and is based in Swindon, has been run on an interim basis by Ian Campbell as interim executive chair for well over two years.

Sources said that Mr Kwarteng wanted Innovate UK to fulfil its intended role as the "interface for innovation" between the government and private sector.

One insider said Mr Mukerjee's arrival would be a key step towards ensuring that the government met its commitment to increasing research and development spending across the economy to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

Mr Mukerjee's appointment comes as ministers also seek an executive to run the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA), a new "high-risk, high-reward" body charged with identifying major scientific discoveries.

ARIA, which was the brainchild of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson's now-estranged former aide, will sit alongside Innovate UK as part of Britain's innovation strategy.

Further details of the government's ambitions to be a global leader in scientific and commercial innovation during the coming decades are expected to be set out in a paper in the summer.

Mr Mukerjee's selection as Innovate UK's new chief executive is said to have been greeted enthusiastically by ministers.

He will be assigned the task of turning the organisation from one focused on handing out government grants into one which works far more collaboratively with the private sector to spearhead innovations with potential to spur economic growth.

Innovate UK sits within UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), which has an annual budget of £8bn, but which is said by insiders to have been stymied in its work by a ponderous approach within Whitehall.

UKRI is currently seeking a successor to Sir John Kingman, the former Treasury mandarin, as its chairman.

Mr Mukerjee is expected to be handed a mandate to forge closer relationships with business, particularly among those which have the scope to invest in research and development capabilities in the UK and among the venture capital community, from which a sizeable proportion of corporate innovation emerges.

As chief executive of Watchstone, the insurance outsourcer previously known as Quindell and which became embroiled in a Serious Fraud Office probe, he stabilised the company and oversaw its eventual break-up.

He has also run a number of successful private equity-backed companies, including C-MAC Micro Technology, which operated in markets such as aerospace and defence.

Since 2007, Innovate UK has invested roughly £2.5bn alongside match-funding from the private sector.

Government figures suggest it has been partly responsible for the creation of approximately 70,000 jobs during that period, adding an estimated £18bn of value to the UK economy.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy declined to comment on Tuesday.

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