Every school had one:  a golden girl or boy super-achiever who swept all before them and was voted one of the most likely to succeed, only to end up in jail or begging for the price of a cup of tea outside McDonalds.

That is the fate which appears to have befallen this Conservative Government, ahead of its impending monstering at the forthcoming General Election, whenever that may be.

What started as a promise to spend our tax pounds more wisely and to improve economic growth, following the apparently wasteful Gordon Brown era, has ended with Rishi Sunak literally begging us for money.

A year ago this month, the Prime Minister delivered a speech in which he pledged to “cement the place" of post-Brexit Britain as a "science and technology superpower” by 2030.

A breathless Government press release assured us that his “bold plan to grow the UK economy” would, “create high-paid jobs of the future, protect our security, and radically improve people’s lives through science, innovation and technology.”

The Herald: Do you fancy gambling your savings?Do you fancy gambling your savings? (Image: free)

Twelve months on, his Government is now running adverts on commercial radio, urging any Tom, Dick or Harry with a spare fiver stuffed down the back of the sofa, to invest it in science and technology, to help it achieve its plan.

I really don’t know where to start with something like this.

Perhaps if Mr Sunak and his four predecessors as Conservative premiers hadn’t allowed research and development investment - including in health and life science projects - to fall by a fifth over the past decade, he wouldn’t now feel obliged to pass round the metaphorical begging bowl.

Of course, Government support should not be judged solely on how much of our money it invests.

There are other ways in which ministers and their departments can help to drive growth, from cutting red tape and developing a welcoming fiscal environment, to creating a general impression that the country is on the side of commerce and open for business. Here, unfortunately, administrations in both London and Edinburgh continue to fall short.

This is an important issue because the future of our country, its affluence and place in the world, depends on its ability to compete globally in the knowledge economy.

The first Industrial Revolution harnessed water and steam to mechanise production, while the second employed electric power for mass production. The third used electronics and information technology to automate production processes. Now, we stand on the threshold of a fourth epoch, building on the digital revolution that has unfolded since the mid-20th century and marked by a convergence of physical, digital, and biological technologies.

Along with offshore wind and hydrogen production, particularly in Scotland, there are opportunities in photonics and quantum technology, industrial biotechnology, medical technology, pharmaceuticals, and financial technology.

The start of an industrial strategy is the most important stage of the journey, when goals are set and a roadmap planned and, already, we appear to be at a disadvantage.

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Mr Sunak’s superpower plan included a £50 million fund to help research institutes and universities to improve their facilities, However, red tape is already holding back progress, with 56% of planned life science developments in the so-called golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London still waiting to receive planning permission.

Business leaders routinely complain that, as well as failing to fix the planning system, the Government doesn’t provide enough meaningful support for research and development or help companies to find people with the right skills, following Brexit, to make them competitive.

The SNP Government may not have sufficient control over immigration, or the powers to create a friendly fiscal environment for outside investors, but there are few signs that, even if it did, Humza Yousaf and his ministerial colleagues would wield those levers wisely or effectively.

According to a Fraser of Allander Institute Scottish Business Monitor (SBM) report, published last August, just nine per cent of firms agreed that the Scottish Government understands the business environment, while eight per cent said they agreed that ministers and officials engaged effectively with the sector. Those are truly astonishing statistics.

Investment in life sciences is a highly specialised and uncertain endeavour requiring, not only detailed knowledge of the sector, but also financial skill and acumen and very deep pockets.

The Herald: Investment in life sciences is a highly specialised and uncertain endeavour Investment in life sciences is a highly specialised and uncertain endeavour (Image: PA)

The reality is that 90% of biotech start-ups fail and so, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you could end up losing your shirt.

The only moderately safe way to invest is to put your money into large pharmaceutical and biotech companies that are too big to fail, like Roche, Novartis, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson.

Of the world’s 10 biggest pharma companies, only AstraZeneca is UK-owned. Is the Government really suggesting that the best way to turn the UK into a science and technology superpower is for us all to invest in foreign-owned corporate giants?

Advertising on commercial radio is the bluntest of blunt marketing instruments, with no allowance made for caveat or nuance.

Encouraging Joe Public to invest in science and technology, without pointing out the potential risks, is like asking them to walk into their nearest branch of William Hill and stick a tenner on the first horse in the first race.

Perhaps this has always been this Government’s strategy, to reduce everything to the toss of a coin. The reason the execrable Liz Truss lasted only 50 days as Prime Minister is because she gambled on the UK economy and lost.

A more honest approach would be to tell Mrs Scrimmager from Bonkle: “We’d love to be able to pay for your hip replacement surgery, but we need to wait to see how we get on in the 3.30 at Kempton Park.”

What is more galling is that the Government has been reduced to running these ads because it refuses to put its money where its mouth is.

The UK ranks 11th in the OECD group of wealthy nations for total R&D investment as a percentage of GDP, well behind comparable rich countries such as the US, Austria, and Switzerland.

A report published last year by Institute for Public Policy Research said Britain would need to invest an additional £62 billion from public and private sources to match Israel, the global leader for R&D expenditure.

The Government had set a target for total R&D investment - from public and private sources - to reach 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Total expenditure by the state and companies investing in research in Britain was £38.5bn in 2019, or about 1.7% of GDP.

The first lesson any Prime Minister should learn is that, before making bold promises, they need to check first on whether there is enough cash in the coffers to meet them. Failing to do so and then asking for more just makes you look like the school drop-out.