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Businesses in the UK spent £23.7 billion on research and development (R&D) in 2017, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS found that year-on-year expenditure on R&D increased by £1.1bn – or 4.9% – compared to statistics for 2016.

Firms in the pharmaceutical sector continued to have the highest level of R&D spending of all product groups at £4.3bn.

Software development businesses increased expenditure on R&D by 34.7% – to £1.4bn and a 6% share of all R&D spending by UK businesses in 2017.

Felicity Burch, innovation director at the Confederation of British Industry, said:

“Business investment in R&D has hit the highest point on record, showing UK firms’ thirst to be world leaders in the products and innovations of the future.

“But this spend has not been enough to make a dent in real progress towards the goal of investing 3% of GDP in R&D.”

The 2017 Conservative manifesto included a target of increasing R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, with a longer-term goal of 3%.

However, the ONS said R&D represented only 1.67% of UK GDP in 2016, although the upward trend is expected to have continued in 2017/18.

Burch added:

“As Brexit looms, it is imperative that the Government sets out an international strategy with clear commitments to maintain the close relationship the UK has with Europe on science and innovation.”

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