LONDON – The UK government plans to set up a new agency to support the development of new technologies.
The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced Friday that the Advanced Research and Invention Agency will fund “high risk, high reward” scientific research to make “breakthrough” discoveries. It should be fully functional next year.
The agency will receive £ 800 million ($ 1.1 billion) to help “the most inspiring inventors” over the next four years. This is a relatively small amount compared to other government research agencies like UK Research and Innovation.
The UK government’s R&D budget for 2020-2021 alone is £ 10.36 billion.
ARIA will operate independently from the government and will be led by visionary researchers, the government said, adding that it will seek an interim CEO and chairman in the coming weeks.
Economy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said in a statement: “From the steam engine to the latest artificial intelligence technologies, Britain is full of scientific discoveries. Today’s challenges – whether disease outbreaks or climate change – require bold, ambitious and innovative solutions.”
He added, “By removing unnecessary red tape and putting power in the hands of our innovators, the agency is given the freedom to advance tomorrow’s technologies while we innovate to keep building better.”
Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said in a statement that the importance of scientific innovation had been made clear over the past year, adding that ARIA offered “an exciting new funding mechanism”.
Dominic Cummings, former senior advisor to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, liked the idea of creating a UK version of the US agency for advanced defense research, formerly known as ARPA.
According to the Financial Times, Cummings’ WhatsApp handle is still: “Do Brexit, then Arpa.” However, the newspaper says he is not in the running to become the agency’s CEO, citing government officials who are familiar with the matter.
Calls for “the mandate and mission to be clarified”
The opposition Labor Party has said that the government needs to provide more details on ARIA.
Shadow Business and Energy Minister Ed Miliband said via Twitter that the government needs to “clarify the mandate and mission” of the new agency and address the “wider funding crisis” that researchers are facing.
“It’s completely unclear what ARIA is really going to do, especially given its modest budget,” said Jon Crowcroft, professor of computer science at Cambridge University.
ARIA’s launch follows the new European Innovation Council fund, which is worth $ 12 billion. The EIC was set up by the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, to help startups across Europe to assert themselves and compete with competitors in the US and Asia who have spawned several technology giants with market caps, the vast hundreds of billions of dollars.