One small, vital step for change

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The Independent Online
The great advantage of bunching announcements, launches and conferences on business developments is that it suggests the issue is being taken seriously. The danger is that, amid all the activity, some developments may not attract the attention they merit.

This might be the case with the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. Nesta was officially launched last week on the same day as the publication of details about the Government's planned Small Business Service, and just ahead of two conferences, to be attended by senior Cabinet ministers, exploring "entrepreneurial culture".

This would be a shame because it could play an important part in turning the Government's dream of a "creative Britain" into reality. The brainchild of Rory Coonan, an old Arts Council hand who is now a consultant on design and innovation, Nesta was established with pounds 200m of Lottery money. Its aim is to nurture talent in the three areas covered by its title.

The first seven projects to receive funding range from a mathematics project that brings together Cambridge academics and pupils from disadvantaged schools in the London borough of Brent, to a "lab" dedicated to giving choreographers the chance to work with artists from other disciplines.

However, the true test of the organisation will not be the range of activities it supports but its willingness to take risks. Lord Puttnam, the film maker, who chairs a board of trustees that includes the biotechnology entrepreneur Chris Evans, and the head of the London Symphony Orchestra Clive Gillinson, acknowledges as much when he says that the structure of the arrangement will allow Nesta to be "quite adventurous".

Nesta insists that it is not going to be characterised by short-term thinking. "We are investing for the long term. If we invest wisely, our endowment will grow - allowing us to do more," it says.

This attitude is emphasised by Lord Puttnam, who says that Nesta is trying to "create something of a cultural step change" through which the much bemoaned "lack of entrepreneurial spirit" can be addressed.

In financing young entrepreneurs, inventors and other bright sparks upon whom a creative and prosperous economy depends, Nesta will be playing an important part in developing an enterprise society in Britain. But, without other fundamental changes in society, there is still a risk that the real beneficiaries will be the US organisations that can offer these talents the lifestyle they can only dream about on this side of the Atlantic.