Government’s priorities for tech in 2024 

‘Skills, scale-up and regulation to support innovation’ promises Michelle Donelan, Minister for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) 

DSIT was created a year ago with the express aim of optimising investment in research and development, putting public services at the forefront of innovation and strengthening international collaboration in science and tech. As we reported at the time, it focused on innovation in ‘five technologies of the future’: quantum tech, AI, semiconductors, engineering biology and future telecoms, as part of wider government ambitions to the grow the UK economy. 

Official portrait photograph of Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

Photo by Rory Arnold / No. 10 Downing Street

A year later, growth remains the main goal of the department, as set out by Ms Donelan in a speech at innovation company Plexal’s offices in London. 

According to the Minister, some 1.8m people are now employed in tech start-ups in the UK and the sector is worth more than $1 trillion – larger than anywhere else in Europe. The government are keen to build on this success. Ms Donelan said the three priorities for tech are now: ‘The right skills for the future, the right conditions for start-ups to scale-up and the right regulations to support innovation and long-term business confidence.’ 

The focus of the speech that followed was on scale-ups. Sadly, that meant the minister didn’t explain how the government plans to address the skills shortage – which, last month, a report by London Councils said was holding back growth in the green economy.  

There was a little more detail on plans for regulation. Ms Donelan backed the new report from the Regulatory Horizons Council and committed to reviewing its recommendations. A regulatory support service will also be developed to help science and tech companies. 

Ms Donelan provided much more detail on how the government intends to support scale-ups. She announced the creation of a new scale-up forum that will bring together leading figures from tech companies, business support organisations, investment and regulation. The forum will work alongside the existing Scale Up Institute and Business Innovation Forum to tackle issues faced by entrepreneurs and investors. The forum will also be behind a pilot scheme offering tech-focused support to 20 promising science and tech businesses to help them to scale-up. 

The Minister was also keen to increase the number of ‘unicorns’ in the UK. This is what the venture capital industry calls what was once a rare, special phenomenon: privately held start-ups with a value of more than $1bn. Examples include Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Ms Doneland wants the UK to ‘account for at least 50% of all new unicorns created by Europe as a whole’ and ‘close the gap on the US [by] matching its current levels of VC investment as a share of GDP by 2030 – about £5bn per year extra.’ 

In addition, UKRI has committed to simplify and expand support for businesses wishing to invest in innovation to help them scale-up. InnovateUK also hopes to reach 1m innovators by the end of 2024 and halve the average time taken between application and receipt of grant funding.  

Lastly, Ms Donelan said that data is key to many scale-ups, helping businesses to better understand and engage with their mass market. Local and national government are among the largest data holders in the UK, which Ms Donelan described as a ‘potential goldmine of useful information’. She said a further government priority for the year ahead is to look at ways to improve data access and use to foster scale-ups while at the same time ensuring privacy and consent are not breached.

Such plans may prove controversial, not least with an election looming. Infotec will keep a close eye on developments.

In related news:

£1.5m for digital factory hub to aid manufacturing in Wales

Ransomware and national security – Parliament report 


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