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Budget boost for UK quantum scene

15 Mar 2023

£2.5BN, decade-long follow up to National Quantum Technologies Programme defined in new National Quantum Strategy.

The UK government says it will invest £2.5 billion in quantum technology development over the next ten years, in an effort to build on the existing National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP) established nearly a decade ago.

In its Spring Budget 2023 document, the UK Treasury briefly outlined the plans to double public investment in the technology, largely confirming an earlier report that had appeared in the Financial Times ($).

However, whereas the FT article focused on quantum computing, the budget document outlined a broader scope, in keeping with the NQTP's creation of four regional innovation “hubs” focused on quantum sensing, imaging, and encryption efforts, as well as computing and timing applications.

Quantum Strategy
The next decade of development will be guided by the new National Quantum Strategy, published in tandem with the Spring Budget.

“Quantum technologies are expected to have transformative and wide-ranging impacts, through the development of new types of computers, secure communications, and wider improvements to sensing, imaging, and timing,” states the Treasury's budget text, referencing the quantum strategy that it has been consulting on for the past year.

“The government will invest a total of £2.5 billion over ten years, focusing on realizing four goals: ensuring the UK is home to world-leading quantum science and engineering; supporting businesses through innovation funding opportunities and by providing access to world-leading R&D facilities; driving the use of quantum technologies in the UK; and creating a national and international regulatory framework.”

The same document also mentions that two quantum projects based in Glasgow - led by the University of Glasgow and M-Squared Lasers - will receive funding via the £100 million “Innovation Accelerators” program.

Early mover
Acknowledged as an early mover in quantum technology thanks to the NQTP efforts, the UK is regarded as the leading country for quantum technology development in Europe - although major funding schemes in Germany and The Netherlands may threaten that position in the future.

The existing UK program has also spawned a number of university spin-offs looking to exploit that first-mover advantage, with several attracting significant venture funding.

Speaking during last November’s Quantum Technology Showcase in central London, UK science minister George Freeman MP said that the UK was in a global race to develop quantum technology and applications, acknowledging that support in both the US and China was an order of magnitude greater.

In an opening address at the showcase, Freeman also stressed a need to connect London’s financial markets more strongly with the emerging quantum scene, part of a wider bid to make innovation a much larger part of the UK economy than it is currently.

“[We] want to back companies that are growing fast, and to set international regulations and standards that will make us leaders,” he said at the time. The next phase of growth will now be guided by the UK government’s just-published National Quantum Strategy.

National Quantum Strategy
In a foreword introducing that strategy Michelle Donelan MP, secretary of state for the recently created Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT), writes:

“This ten-year plan will fund new frontiers of quantum research, support and develop our growing quantum sector, prepare our wider economy for the quantum revolution and ensure that the UK leads internationally in the regulation and ethical use of quantum technologies.

“We will make the UK the home for cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, the best place in the world to start and grow a quantum business, a leading voice in the international quantum and tech community, and a magnet for international quantum talent.”

Donelan added: “We firmly believe that Britain should lead the world in this physical science and deliver opportunities and jobs in hardware, engineering and advanced manufacturing as well as in software and applications across the economy.”

The strategy document also notes the UK’s relative strength in the photonics supply chain, with lasers and related optical technologies proving crucial to virtually all quantum technology applications.

2033 targets
Targets for the year 2033 included in the strategy document include attaining a 15 per cent share of both global private equity investment into quantum technology companies, and of the global quantum technologies market.

Those figures are currently estimated at 12 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively.

Other goals include the UK becoming a global leader in establishing global quantum standards, agreeing five bilateral arrangements with other “quantum nations”, and funding an additional 1000 postgraduate research students in relevant disciplines.

New support outlined in the strategy includes £100 million for the research hubs covering quantum computing, communications, sensing, imaging, and timing applications, £15 million to boost government procurement of quantum technologies for public use, and £20 million to accelerate collaborative R&D in quantum networking.

The government says it will also establish an “Office for Quantum” within DSIT, in a bid to ensure the necessary focus to implement the quantum strategy.

Optikos Corporation Omicron-Laserage Laserprodukte GmbHUniverse Kogaku America Inc.Mad City Labs, Inc.First Light ImagingCHROMA TECHNOLOGY CORP.LaCroix Precision Optics
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