Robotics, 5G tech, smart energy, and artificial intelligence will—as promised late last year by the UK’s prime minister Theresa May—be showered in R&D cash from a multi-billion pound taxpayer-funded pot.
The PM said in November that £2 billion per year would be set aside for research and development up to 2020—the end of the current parliament’s term. Number 10 said: “This fund is part of £4.7 billion of additional R&D funding announced by the prime minister in November, a bigger increase than in any parliament since 1979.”
May’s government hopes to emulate the setup that already exists for Britain’s automotive and aerospace industries, which are backed up by research institutions and have little regulatory interference from Whitehall.
On Monday, May will say during her first regional Cabinet meeting as PM, that the Tories’ so-called Modern Industrial Strategy “will be underpinned by a new approach to government, not just stepping back but stepping up to a new, active role that backs business and ensures more people in all corners of the country share in the benefits of its success.”
There are 10 key areas that the government wants to address, which includes a pledge of £170 million to apparently improve technical education (science, technology, engineering, and maths, aka, STEM) in the country. The government plans to additionally pump £556 million into what it likes to describe as the “Northern Powerhouse”—to “create jobs, support businesses, and encourage growth.”
Lagging standards on digital, energy, and transport performance need to be upped, the government has also admitted.
“This is an important first step towards creating a comprehensive, consistent and long-term industrial strategy that will help Britain adjust to a more globally-focused, post-Brexit economy,” said Terry Scuoler, the boss of manufacturers’ lobby group EEF. “Manufacturing has a key role to play and we look forward to working with the government on crystallising this into a strategic framework that will work and deliver for industry.”
The Labour Party’s shadow business secretary Clive Lewis said that the government’s planned industrial strategy was “too little, too late.” He added: “The reality is that a prime minister who wants to turn us into a tax haven cannot be trusted to deliver an industrial strategy.”
As it stands, the UK’s average science and technology R&D spend trails far behind that of competing nations such as France, Germany, and Japan. According to OECD figures, Britain spends 1.7 percent of GDP on research and development—below the average of 2.4 percent.
Last week, May said that Britain would leave the European single market and look to strike trade deals beyond the soon-to-be 27-member-state bloc. At the same time, the PM is hoping to nail a deal with the EU that some critics have already described as being stuck in, well, la la land.
On Friday, the PM is set to fly to the US to meet president Trump to hold talks on trade.
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