Rishi Sunak unveils £370 million science superpower blueprint

Major funding pledges on AI, quantum computers and engineering technology are among 10 key actions to ‘cement science superpower status by 2030’

March 6, 2023
10 Downing Street

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has announced plans to invest £250 million in artificial intelligence and other “transformational technologies” as part of a new blueprint to guide Britain’s scientific ambitions.

Under the 10-point plan, announced on 6 March, funding will focus on AI, quantum computers and “engineering biology”, which is likely to focus on gene editing that could be used to create new drugs or genetically modified crops.

Described by Mr Sunak as a “bold new plan to cement our place as a global science and technology superpower by 2030”, the blueprint promises to provide up to £50 million to stimulate investment in science from the private sector and philanthropists, and an additional £50 million for the World Class Labs programme to help universities and research institutes to upgrade their facilities.

As part of £370 million in new science spending, an extra £10 million will be made available to support science start-ups, while £9 million will support the establishment of a quantum computing research centre in Daresbury, near Liverpool.

Unveiling the plan, Mr Sunak added: “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.”

The new science plan follows the creation of the UK’s new Department for Science Innovation and Technology last month, which is led by science secretary Michelle Donelan. At the same time, the government also announced the publication of the long-awaited review of UK research structures by Sir Paul Nurse.

The new science plan was broadly welcomed by Britain’s most senior scientists, including the Royal Society’s president, Sir Adrian Smith, who said the announcement was “a clear signal that research and innovation sit at the heart of the prime minister’s productivity and growth agenda for the UK”.

However, Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, said the additional £370 million of new funding is “still far short of the £1.6 billion taken out of the research budget less than two weeks ago”, referring to the unused funding for Horizon Europe association in 2022-23 that was reclaimed by the Treasury.

Calling on the government to fast-track negotiations to the European Union’s £80 billion research scheme, Dr Bradshaw said that now “the political roadblocks that have held up the UK’s association to Horizon Europe have been removed, the government’s top priority should be to finalise the agreement that was put in place over two years ago”.

Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and former president of the Royal Society, also struck a more sceptical note, stating that the “sums actually promised seem no more than the research councils need to compensate for recent real-terms cuts”.


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