UK’s Science and Technology Sector boosted in Chancellor’s Autumn Statement

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt prepares for the Autumn Statement 2023 in his kitchen in the No 11 flat. Picture by Kirsty O'Connor/HM Treasury

THE UK Chancellor has unveiled a comprehensive plan to bolster the science, innovation, and technology sector in the Autumn Statement. The “Autumn Statement for Growth” outlines measures worth hundreds of millions to propel advancements in computing, quantum technology, life sciences, and regulatory sandboxes to foster innovation.

The cornerstone of the plan is a £20 billion annual boost to business investment, aimed at enhancing productivity and creating a more resilient economy. Tax cuts for workers and businesses, constituting the most substantial work-related tax cut since the 1980s, are intended to stimulate economic growth.

A pivotal announcement involves a £500 million investment in artificial intelligence (AI) computing over two years. This funding aims to provide UK scientists and AI researchers with cutting-edge computing power, fostering groundbreaking discoveries. The initiative extends support to AI start-ups and small to medium enterprises (SMEs), positioning the UK as a global hub for AI innovation.

The Chancellor unveiled five Quantum Missions to solidify the UK’s leadership in quantum technology. These missions target significant milestones in computing, healthcare, navigation, and sensing. The goals include deploying accessible quantum computers, pioneering the quantum internet, integrating quantum sensing into the NHS, implementing quantum navigation systems, and utilizing mobile, networked quantum sensors for critical infrastructure.

Plans to facilitate semiconductor manufacturing growth in the UK were clarified. The UK Infrastructure Bank will prioritize critical supply chains, including semiconductor manufacturing, ensuring strategic objectives alignment. The British Industry Supercharger scheme aims to align energy prices for eligible UK chip makers with global benchmarks, fostering a competitive environment.

The Chancellor announced the permanence of full expensing, a 100% first-year allowance for main-rate expenditure, delivering the largest business tax cut in modern British history. This move is expected to increase annual investment by approximately £3 billion, fostering technology innovation.

Acknowledging the importance of university spin-out companies, the government endorses recommendations to foster innovation-friendly policies. A £20 million fund will support the creation of more spin-out companies, streamlining processes and encouraging investment. The government’s commitment to the new Faraday Discovery Fellowship, backed by a £250 million endowment to the Royal Society, aims to support mid-career scientists in conducting groundbreaking STEM research.

To strengthen the UK’s venture capital industry, a £3 million fellowship programme will be launched, developing a new generation of science and tech venture investors. Up to 20 individuals in venture capital will participate in the pilot scheme, enhancing skills to drive breakthroughs in areas such as vaccines, AI, and robotics.

The government announced £50 million for developing the UK’s battery capabilities, emphasizing research and development (R&D) in battery development, including AI technologies. Regulatory sandboxes for telecommunications spectrum sharing, engineering biology, and space aim to provide a pro-innovation environment for testing new products, services, or business models.

An allocation of almost £47 million this financial year will support Earth observation activities as the UK re-enters Copernicus. Additionally, £15 million has been confirmed for the UK’s Connectivity in Low Earth Orbit scheme, fostering the development of low Earth orbit satcom satellites.

The Autumn Statement reflects the UK government’s commitment to positioning the country as a science and technology superpower, driving innovation, economic growth, and global competitiveness.

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