Rishi Sunak unveils plan for UK to be science and technology 'superpower' by 2030

Initial projects include a £250 million investment in AI, quantum technology and engineering biology

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Getty
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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced a plan to make the UK a science and technology “superpower” by the end of the decade.

Mr Sunak hopes a science and technology framework will place the UK at the forefront of new technology including artificial intelligence and supercomputing.

His government has promised funding of more than £360 million ($433 million).

The move has been one of the central aims of Mr Sunak’s premiership, with Michelle Donelan recently appointed to lead the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

Mr Sunak warned on Monday that the UK “can only stay ahead with focus, dynamism and leadership”, as the 10-point plan promised to use post-Brexit freedom for “pro-innovation regulations” and develop a “pro-innovation culture” in the public sector.

The government also announced it would again extend the funding guarantee, this time until June, for successful applicants to the EU’s Horizon programme.

There have been hopes that Mr Sunak’s new deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol could pave the way for the UK to rejoin the €100 billion ($106.2 billion) research scheme.

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Leading scientists last month criticised the Treasury for taking back £1.6 billion it had allocated for research and which had been set aside for UK involvement in Horizon.

“Trailblazing science and innovation have been in our DNA for decades," Mr Sunak said on Sunday.

“The more we innovate, the more we can grow our economy, create the high-paid jobs of the future, protect our security and improve lives across the country.”

Included in the framework are plans to boost private and public investment in research and development, and boosting innovation through public sector procurement.

It also pledges to ensure that researchers have access to the “best physical and digital infrastructure” for research and development, to attract the best talent to Britain.

Ms Donelan said innovation and technology “hold the keys” to raising productivity, increasing wages and reducing energy prices.

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“We are putting the full might of the British government and our private sector partners behind our push to become a scientific and technological superpower, because only through being world leaders in future industries like AI and quantum will we be able to improve the lives of every Briton,” she said.

The new plan is backed by an initial set of projects, including a £250 million investment in AI, quantum technology and engineering biology, as well as the publication of a new review of UK research by Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute.

“It is absolutely right, as the Prime Minister has said, that the future of the UK depends upon research, science and technology," Sir Paul said.

“Only by being a leading science nation can the UK drive a sustainable economy, increased productivity and generate societal benefits such as improved health care and protecting the environment.”

Updated: March 06, 2023, 12:01 AM