The UK's business R&D (BERD) to GDP ratio is low compared to other leading economies, and the ratio has declined over the 1990s. This paper uses data on 719 large UK firms to analyse the link between R&D and productivity during 1989-2000. The results indicate that UK returns to R&D are similar to returns in other leading economies and have been relatively stable over the 1990s. The analysis suggests that the low BERD to GDP ratio in the UK is unlikely to be due to direct financial or human capital constraints (as these imply finding relatively high rates of return). © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009.