Autumn Statement: Chancellor confirms investment for growth via science
22 Nov 2023
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt today confirmed the expected raft of commitments to boost the UK economy with significant support for science sectors.
£20 million to foster spin-out development
£50 million for the British Business Bank (BBB) Future Funds breakthrough programme
£50 million investment in the Apprenticeship Growth Sector pilot scheme
Referencing one of the best known university-derived companies, Hunt earlier reiterated Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s focus on innovative science start-ups to foster economic growth.
“Innovative, globally competitive businesses like Oxford Nanopore are making a huge contribution to our economy,” he stated.
“It’s critical that we harness this potential and give universities the tools they need to translate cutting edge research into exciting UK businesses that start and grow in the UK.”
The announcement coincided with the Chancellor’s backing for the recommendations of the Independent Review of University Spin-out Companies published this week, aimed at stimulating more investment in these firms.
Science and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan commented: “Turning new ideas and innovations into blossoming businesses is the bedrock of a vibrant economy and our £20m investment will drive more successful UK spinout companies like Oxford Nanopore and Darktrace, ensuring world-class research translates into world-leading industries.
“At the same time, we need clear rules on the stakes held by universities which offer world class facilities and expertise to get those companies off the ground, so we can back future generations of innovators, in turn creating more local jobs and growing our economy.”
A key part of the economic boost is the BBB funding programme, designed to allow pension funds more latitude to invest in research intensive early stage companies.
While the UK spin-outs managed to raise a massive £5 billion in 2022/21 alone, the pension sector represents a massive and under tapped source of investment. And though spin-outs emanating from Oxford, Cambridge and London universities Imperial College and UCL have predominated, institutions outside the ‘golden triangle’ are increasingly impacting the sector and hungry for investment.
Elsewhere, space science has already been another major beneficiary with the Space Cluster Infrastructure Fund (SCIF) having received £47 million investments spread among 12 schemes.
Key projects include the University of Northumbria, Cardiff Space Forge and Oxford based Magdrive. Northumbria North East Space Skills and Technology (NESST), based at the university receives £10 million for its work on satellite communications, as well as space weather and energy.
Space Forge’s £8 million for the new National Microgravity Research Centre underwrites work on advanced materials, production and tooling. Meanwhile, Magdrive’s £2 million award will be invested in its planned DEEP Lab electric propulsion facility.
Overall, response from the scientific community in industry and academia to the investments has been favourable. Caveats remain however over the Government’s ability to set the agenda beyond the short term, given an impending General Election and the Tories’ current low standing.
Critics have also said that the financial commitments need to be allied to a comprehensive strategic plan, one that determines also which areas of scientific endeavour should be prioritised.