The British government has announced plans for a $1 billion (£800m) moonshot tech-funding agency, that it hopes will help the country compete with China and the United States beyond Brexit.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak heralded the “blue skies funding agency” during the unveiling of his first budget today – which also set aside $38.8bn package to prop up the UK’s economy amid the continued outbreak of Coronavirus.
Sunak wants his new agency to work similar to the US’ Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPA, which played a key role in the development of Silicon Valley and the modern tech industry. Magazine New Scientist reports than the agency is the creation of Dominic Cummings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leading adviser.
“Ours is a country of ideas, invention and discovery and is truly a national history,” Sunak said. He announced plans to increase the UK’s research budget to around 2.4% of GDP, which would bring it in line with China and the US.
According to a September document the agency would “give academics longer term funding to tackle really big societal challenges – problems or opportunities, allowing a relatively free and unconstrained approach that is distributed, rather than centralized in a unit, with a funding mechanism which is agile and responsive, and allows for failure.”
Britain is a tech powerhouse. London, its capital, plays host to 45 so-called “unicorn” tech startups – private firms worth $1bn or more. Berlin is second on that list with just ten. Investment in British tech leapt 44% last year.
But Brexit—the UK’s long-awaited departure from the European Union—has spurred fears of a downturn. Some international companies are already contemplating moving to the common market, while others worry a more insular United Kingdom would struggle to attract top tech talent.