A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has given the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund positive feedback after finding that it is helping academia and industry to engage better on research and development (R&D).
The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund was established by UKRI to improve long-term productivity within the economy and support research and development projects in future mobility, clean growth, artificial intelligence and data.
Through this initiative, UKRI invites academics and businesses to make suggestions on particular challenges that might contribute to these objectives and provide a worthwhile use of financial support from the public purse.
As part of this, the NAO has a supervisory role, to ensure the Fund is meeting its objective and providing value for money. The report looked at how UKRI is managing the projects and meeting the objectives set by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which oversees the UKRI.
The BEIS set out five key objectives for UKRI to follow in running the Fund. These are to:
- Increase UK business investment in R&D and R&D capabilities, capacity and technology adoption;
- Increase multi- and inter-disciplinary research;
- Increase engagement between industry and academia;
- Increase collaboration between new small companies and those that are established; and
- Increase overseas investment in R&D in the UK.
Up to £3 billion is being made available via the Fund to spend during the next eight years. To date it has already made £1.2 billion available to 24 challenges involving a total of 1,613 individual R&D projects.
As well as using taxpayer funding, the initiative also relies on financial support from industry, which has contributed £567 million to these projects.
Those who have applied for funding were successful in one in four bids and were positive about the support provided to industry through the Fund.
Despite the success of the scheme, the NAO has asked the Government to look at ways of speeding up the process to approve funding requests, as some bids took more than 100 weeks to move from an expression of interest to an offer of funding.
The NAO is concerned that this lengthy process for approving bids deters applicants, which may be why the current budget for the project is 11 per cent lower than estimated (as of March 2020).
The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is part of a wider R&D campaign by the Government to improve innovation in the UK and works alongside the popular R&D tax credit scheme.
Similar to this fund, claims for this tax relief continue to be below official estimates, suggesting more businesses could make a claim.
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