23 Jul 2024


UK backs robots and smart machines in £22bn r&d plan

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng: rekindling the UK’s flame of innovation and discovery

The UK Government has picked robotics and smart machines as one of seven strategic technologies that it plans to back as part of a new innovation strategy that will see it invest £22bn each year in publicly funded research and development. The Government believes that these technologies – which also include AI, digital and advanced computing, and advanced materials and manufacturing – are areas where the UK has globally competitive r&d and industrial strengths, that will transform the economy.

Announcing the new strategy, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that “the countries that secure leadership in transformational technologies will lead the world – it’s our job to ensure the UK keeps pace with the global innovation race”.

The Innovation Strategy is the government’s long-term vision to put innovation at the heart of “building back better”. It is hoping to boost private sector investment in r&d and to create the right conditions for businesses to innovate.

The strategy takes lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic – including from the Vaccine Taskforce, where the public and private sectors worked successfully with each other – and applies them to help solve some of the challenges facing the UK, including the decline in business r&d investment, skills gaps, and the need for “a pro-enterprise regulatory environment” to spur innovation.

The government will specify “innovation missions” to set direction, urgency and pace on issues confronting the UK that it wants to tackle with the private sector. These will be determined by a new National Science and Technology Council, supported by the Office for Science and Technology Strategy.

“The UK can look back on a proud history of changing the world through innovation,” says Kwarteng. “From the industrial revolution to the vaccine development of the past year, the impact on our everyday lives is undeniable. That spirit of discovery is still alive in this country today, but we have not always turned our genius for innovation into jobs and companies here in Britain.

“Through this long-term plan,” he continues, “we want to rekindle our country’s flame of innovation and discovery, helping businesses to seize the vast opportunities that innovation can bring. If we get this right, we can build the foundations for the new industries of tomorrow, and ensure British firms are at the front of the pack to turn world-leading science into new products and services that are successful in international markets.”

Through the Innovation Strategy, the government plans to:
raise annual public r&d spending to a record £22bn, and
ensure that government procurement is proactive and supportive, providing a route to market for innovative new products and services;
consult on how regulation can ensure that the UK is well-placed to extract the best value from innovation;
introduce new High Potential Individual and Scale-Up visa routes, and revitalise the Innovator route, to attract and retain high-skilled, globally mobile talent;
undertake an independent review to assess UK organisations undertaking research, development and innovation;
cut complexity for innovative companies by developing an online finance and innovation hub involving Innovate UK and the British Business Bank, within a year;
expand the IP education programme for researchers and launch International IP Services to bolster innovative companies’ and researchers’ ability to collaborate, export and invest overseas;
publish an action plan on Standards for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, promoting standards that will help innovation to flourish;
support 30,000 senior managers in SMEs through Help to Grow: Management to boost their business’s performance, resilience, and long-term growth.


As part of effort, five projects will share £127m through the Strength in Places Fund, delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). In one project, £22.6m will help the Advanced Machinery & Productivity Initiative in the North of England to drive innovation for advanced machinery manufacturers, putting them at the cutting edge of technologies such as robotics.

A further £25m of funding for the Connecting Capability Fund will help drive economic growth through university-business innovation, and eight new Prosperity Partnerships will establish business-led research projects harnessing science and engineering to develop new technologies that benefit companies, with £59m of industry, university and government investment.

“The global innovation race is relentless and the goal of making the UK a world leader in science and innovation is one that industry fully supports,” comments Stephen Phipson, CEO of the manufacturers’ organisation, Make UK. “In particular, while the UK has always been good at pure research it has less of a track record in turning this into commercially successful products – a weakness that this welcome and positive strategy will go a long way towards redressing.

“The commitment to fund projects building on the industrial strengths of each region in the UK is particularly welcome,” he adds, “as this will help create even more highly skilled jobs across the whole of the country and further embed the innovative and specialist work already being done.

“As we seek to transform our economy in the coming years linking our world-class science and innovation base with exciting, highly successful initiatives such as the Catapults, with newer ones such as Made Smarter, will be key to ensuring the UK is a world leader in emerging technologies, especially those that will help address the societal challenges we face,” Phipson concludes. “It is now essential that the laudable aims of this strategy are matched by full funding in the upcoming Spending Review.”

The Governemnt will set out a detailed strategy for levelling up through research and innovation as part of its forthcoming Levelling Up White Paper.

The Government is also planning to publish the National AI Strategy to support businesses and the public sector to adopt AI responsibly. In addition, it is launching an initiative called Help To Grow: Digital, to help 100,000 small businesses to adopt digital technologies that will save them time and money, and help them to recover from the pandemic.