30 Nov 2017
New Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund set to invest £725m in high-tech program.
UK's new Industrial Strategy.
In it the government committed to investing £725 million over the coming three years in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund "to respond to some of the greatest global challenges and the opportunities faced by the UK". Notable objectives are the construction sector (to receive £170 million) and early diagnosis of illnesses and precision medicine (£210 million).
The government had previously committed £1 billion in the first wave of Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund projects, including investing £246 million in next-gen battery technology and £86 million for robotics hubs across the country.
The white paper also confirmed that the government intends to progress a series of "Sector Deals", with construction, life sciences, automotive and AI the first sectors to benefit from these partnerships with government, backed by private sector co-investment.
Considering photonics-related industrial ambitions, the 255-page Industrial Strategy document contains several sections recognizing such technologies and associated government aims:
On scientific collaborations and business relations with Europe in relation to “Brexit”, which is currently expected to occur in March 2019, the document states:
Professional body reactions
The UK Photonics Leadership Group, which has been looking to set up a "sector deal", reacted by saying that the strategic plan offered plenty of scope for photonics, adding: “The industrial strategy: building a Britain for the future outlines 5 foundations for UK growth down from the 10 pillars in the original green paper. The strategy further outlines the overall grand challenges / global trends which government sees as presenting significant opportunity for UK industry to take lead on innovation.
“These will attract £725million in support from the industrial strategy challenge fund:
The PLG further stated, “These challenges closely align with the PLG’s recently published Grand Photonics Challenges.
“Today, as part of its Industrial Strategy, the government has pledged to work with industry to boost spending on R&D to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027, supported by wider investment in skills and technical education. Published this morning, the Industrial Strategy White Paper - designed to empower our universities and businesses to create the next generation of technologies - set out five ‘foundations of productivity’: Ideas, People, Infrastructure, Business Environment and Places.
"In support of the 2.4% GDP target by 2027, the strategy outlines a raft of initiatives covering these five foundations. This includes a new £115m Strength in Places Fund to support areas to build on their science and innovation strengths and develop stronger local networks - plus a further £725m in a second wave of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Programme with two new sector areas; Clean Growth and AI.
Professor Paul Hardaker, IOP Chief Executive Officer, said: “The boost to research and development is a very welcome signal of how Government will deliver its Manifesto pledge of 2.4% of GDP to be spent on public and private R&D.
“The Industrial Strategy blueprint published today is also very welcome. It will not only benefit the science and innovation community but is good news for UK jobs, productivity and growth as a whole. But getting from 1.7 to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027 requires careful staging - it must be provided in ways that will deliver the greatest impact. We also need to ensure that we can continue to both grow and attract people with the right skills - and excellence must underpin all that we do."
CaSE Executive Director, Dr Sarah Main, said: “It's great to see the government putting its money on research and innovation as the UK's competitive edge. Today's announcement is another step on their way to an ambitious goal - although we should remember that goal will only bring us in line with the average level of R&D investment of other scientific nations.
“Such sizeable public investment brings a responsibility to spend it effectively. The new money is to be spent on modes of challenge-led funding that are relatively untested. It will be important to establish mechanisms to ensure these funds are well spent and to grow the UK's tried and tested research funding mechanisms to meet research priorities as well as political priorities.
She added, “To reach their target of R&D investment across the economy of 2.4% of GDP, the government must attract private investment of over £8bn of globally-mobile R&D budgets. To continue to invest here through the uncertainty of Brexit, research-intensive companies are clear that the UK must provide a competitive economy with a healthy research base and immigration and regulation systems that support international R&D.”
About the Author
Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org.
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