For someone’s first foray into understanding the policy decisions shaping the UK’s tech industry, it can be difficult to identify what is happening amidst a sea of long policy documents, supported by even lengthier research reports. Whilst the documents themselves might not be the most exciting their contents matter for individuals and companies alike. So, here is a practical overview of the UK government’s current approach to tech what may be coming next.
Straight off the bat it’s useful to highlight that the government body most responsible for the tech industry is very new. The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) was only created in February, a relative infant compared to the Treasury (pre 1086) and Home Office (1782). Though the civil service is a huge, highly experienced machine, it has been tasked with a rapidly evolving new sector starting from scratch.
Time will tell whether this a good thing, as a fresh department may not have the bureaucratic cobwebs inherent to many established institutions. Though what cannot be ignored, is that creating a new department is a ‘big deal’.
Michelle Donelan, the DSIT’s new Secretary of State is again at the top table. Having been the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, her new remit will not be foreign to her. In particular, her media background will be of some benefit, especially as if you were to look through Twitter, you would find it difficult to avoid areas of her responsibility, such as ChatGPT and semiconductors (Usually about Taiwan, and usually that we don’t have any).
What would have piqued the interest of tech industry professionals is the emphasis our highest ranked representatives have placed on technology. Sunak has promised the UK will become a science and technology superpower, accompanied by a £3.5 billion commitment to the sector. £2.5 billion of this commitment begins in 2024 as part of the Government’s Quantum strategy. Which as it is stretched over 10 years may not materialise.
Another billion is dedicated to funding supercomputer and AI research.
Some of the schemes include the ‘Manchester Prize’, awarding a new £1 million cash prize to participants that create the best research. This award continuing for ten years, so my previous comments apply again. Being a fan of Manchester (though neither of their football teams) I am not averse to a prize such as this existing and being named after a great city. Not every distribution of the people’s funds must change the world, and recognising those that excel is a good thing. But would the chance to win £1 million be enough to attract the brightest and best to set up shop in the UK?
The real meat of the remaining £1 billion is invested into ‘exascale’ computers, the next generation of supercomputers. A great win for UK Tech, and a potentially increased chance of more funding for future projects if successful. Additionally, having a greater number of experts and industry leaders in the UK would benefit an industry reliant on migration to cope with demands.
I have glossed over some of the shiny aspects of the DSIT such as engineering biology, future telecoms, along with life sciences and green technology. The point is now, having mentioned them the importance of these sectors goes without saying. For wider tech professionals, Patrick Vallance’s report on pro-innovation technology has also been supported by the government (the subject of my next piece), which will also have its own implications.