Government plans Pounds 15m fund

February 20, 1998

For all those scientists who need to win the National Lottery before they can buy the necessary time or equipment to develop their good idea into a money-making success, the odds of being a winner might just improve this summer.

For soon there may be a way for scientists to win a share of Pounds 15 million - and they will not even need to buy a ticket.

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) was first proposed by the Labour Party in the run up to the general election. Now legislation for the scheme - which will use lottery money to support, among others, young scientists - is winging its way through Parliament as part of the National Lottery Bill and could be a reality before the end of the year.

Nesta is, according to a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the government department responsible for the bill, "an individual talent fund".

An initial endowment of Pounds 200 million from the lottery will enable its trustees, who are still to be appointed, to give grants to individuals in the fields of science, technology and the arts so they can fund good ideas through to development and commercialisation.

Launching the bill in the House of Lords, where it now awaits its third reading before moving to the Commons, Lord McIntosh of Haringey said: "The creativity of the British people is one of our greatest strengths, but in recent times we have failed fully to exploit our creative potential."

Nesta is thus designed to "help talented people reach their full potential, to help turn good ideas into good business and to make people more aware of the essential role of science, technology and the arts in our lives. It is an investment in our future", Lord McIntosh declared.

According to the government, Nesta money will not replace its current investment in areas such as science, but provide extra money for scientists and researchers to help develop their ideas.

"This is further support," a Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokeswoman said. "The money is not going to replace things which are currently government responsibility. But there are a lot of people who do not get the money they need."

It is hoped the initial Pounds 200 million endowment which, according to Lord McIntosh, will make Nesta among one of the top ten grant giving endowment funds in the UK, will remain largely intact. Income from investing the money - if the bill gets the go ahead - will be used to support individuals. Around Pounds 15 million a year could be generated, it is claimed. On top of this it is hoped recipients of Nesta support may agree to sign some of their royalties over to the scheme.

"We hope it will be self-financing," said the spokeswoman. "You wouldn't expect everything Nesta supports to be a multi-million dollar success. Some will fail, but some will succeed and allow money to be ploughed back into the scheme."

Lord McIntosh has stressed that Nesta will be free to determine its own programmes and priorities, with government ministers having no powers to direct its policies. The bill leaves the possibility of further endowments to Nesta from the lottery, but also places it under a duty to seek to raise funds from elsewhere.

Though the responsibility of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department of Trade and Industry, which contains the Office of Science and Technology, has remained interested in the scheme.

Margaret Beckett, president of the Board of Trade, said Nesta would complement existing DTI programmes. "Our scientists, engineers and technologists are among the best in the world and I am delighted that some of the proceeds of the lottery will now be directed to our most creative people," she said.

Science minister John Battle added: "Nesta is aimed at talented individuals throughout the UK who need support to see their ideas and skills transferred into successful commercial enterprises. We have great expectations that these individuals will establish some of the great businesses of the future. But while Nesta will breathe life into these ventures, it will not be a provider of life support."

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