£600m funding boost for UK’s science sector

Posted on 24 Jan 2013 by Tim Brown

Big data, energy efficient computing and advanced materials were the big winners today as the Government finalised the allocation of £600m worth of scientific funding announced in the Autumn Statement.

The ‘eight great technologies’ which the Government consider will propel the UK to future growth and help it stay ahead in the global race have received the funding boost.

The Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, announced the following new investments, which total over £460 million:

• £189 million for big data and energy efficient computing to build on the research base’s capacity for analysing big data sets, in areas like earth observation and medical science
• £25 million of additional funding for the National Space Technology Programme for the development of commercial products and services using space technology and data from space-based systems
• £35 million for centres of excellence in robotics and autonomous systems to be created in and around universities, innovation centres, science parks and enterprise sites to bring together the research base and industry
• £45 million for new facilities and equipment for advanced materials research in areas of UK strength such as advanced composites, high-performance alloys, low-energy electronics and telecommunications
• £30 million to create dedicated R&D facilities to develop and test new grid scale storage technologies, helping the UK capitalise on its considerable excess energy production, saving money and reducing the national carbon footprint
• £50 million for vital upgrades to research equipment and laboratories
• £25 million to develop the Advanced Metrology Laboratory at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, allowing scientists there to undertake leading edge research in measurement science
• £65 million for world-leading research institutes, focussed around the development of Rothamsted Research Campus, Aberystwyth, Harwell Oxford and SciTech Daresbury.

These investments build on the £108 million of Autumn Statement funding detailed in the Strategy for UK Life Sciences. Government has also allocated £28 million to the National Composites Centre in Bristol. Together this adds up to the £600 million announced by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement.

In the speech the Minister described the unique strengths of the UK’s research base, but said Government now needs to capitalise on this by backing the right technologies and helping to take them through to market.

“Strong science and flexible markets is a good combination of policies. But it is not enough,” said Mr Willetts, speaking at Policy Exchange. “It is the missing third pillar to any successful high tech strategy. It is R&D and technology and engineering as distinct from pure science. It is our historic failure to back this which lies behind the familiar problems of the so-called “valley of death” between scientific discoveries and commercial applications.”

In the speech the Minister also announced:

• A £350 million investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in Centres for Doctoral Training
• A £1 million Technology Strategy Board competition to help to accelerate the development of concepts where robots are able to interact with each other and humans.

Big data, space, robotics and autonomous systems, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, agri-science, advanced materials and energy were all listed as areas to receive funding by the Chancellor, George Osborne in a speech at the Royal Society in November.

Commenting on the announcement, Graham Chisnall, Deputy CEO of ADS Group said: “Today’s announcement from David Willetts clearly demonstrates the Government’s support of businesses in our sectors. The focus of the investment is rightly on mechanisms to drive industry growth which will assist in rebalancing the overall UK economy.

“In particular, the £45 million towards new facilities and equipment for research in advanced materials will allow UK aerospace, defence, space and security businesses to continue to embrace new and developing technologies, crucial in staying ahead of the competition and retaining our enviable position in the global market. Bolstering this is a £35 million investment in centres of excellence for robotics and autonomous systems, an area of recognised strength for the UK and one ADS is supporting through our inaugural Global Intelligent Systems event which will take place in July.”

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