Provided that the government is returned to power in the June election, it plans to increase its investment in r&d by £4.7bn over the coming four years. The projected extra spending of £2bn a year by 2020-21 would be the biggest increase in government funding for r&d since 1979.
The government has worked with businesses and academics to identify key industrial challenges, where research and innovation could help to unlock markets, and industries of the future in which the UK could become a world-leader. The newly-announced funding is designed to help deliver a step-change in the UK’s ability to turn its research strengths into commercial products.
Three of the areas for investment – including robotics and AI, and clean energy and the development of EV batteries – were announced in the 2017 spring budget. The £93m to be spent on robotics over four years will focus on systems for use in extreme environments. One beneficiary will be Bristol-based OC Robotics which is working on “snake-arm” robots for the nuclear and aerospace industries. It is developing a technology for identifying items of interest and presenting the data using augmented reality.
The three new areas for investment include driverless cars, where £38m will be spent on collaborative r&d projects to develop the next generation of AI and control systems, and manufacturing and future materials where £26m has been earmarked to support r&d programmes aimed at developing a new generation of affordable, lightweight composite materials.
Clark says that as part of its Plan for Britain, the government wants to create a modern industrial strategy to support key sectors of the UK economy and to spread jobs, prosperity and opportunity around country. “Through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund,” he adds, “we will provide an enormous boost to our world-class r&d sector, to help turn brilliant British innovations into new businesses and good jobs.
“The UK is home to some of the world’s best innovators at the very forefront of global excellence,” Clark continues. “The funding I am announcing, providing hundreds of millions of pounds of support to develop the next generation of technologies across a range of sectors, shows our determination and commitment to making sure the UK remains at the very forefront of research innovation for years to come.”