Government backs eight top technologies to fuel growth

The government has outlined the "eight great technologies" it sees will help the UK return to economic growth, as part of a £600m updated funding announcement.

The statement came as today the Office for National Statistics said the UK economy had shrunk 0.3 per cent in the fourth quarter, more than the 0.1 per cent predicted by most analysts.

The eight technologies were listed by universities and science minister David Willetts, with data-driven projects leading the way.

Willets set out details of how the £600m announced for science in the Autumn Statement will support big data, space, robotics and autonomous systems, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, agri-science, advanced materials and energy.

These same eight areas were listed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a speech at the Royal Society in November.

Willetts said £189m would go to big data and energy efficient computing, to boost research capacity for analysing big data sets, in areas like earth observation and medical science.

There will also be £25m of additional funding for the National Space Technology Programme for the development of commercial products and services using space technology and data from space-based systems.

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Another £35m will go to centres of excellence in robotics and autonomous systems, to be created in and around universities, innovation centres, science parks and enterprise sites; and £45 million will go towards new facilities and equipment to support advanced materials research in advanced composites, high-performance alloys, low-energy electronics and telecommunications.

There will be £30m to create dedicated R&D facilities to develop and test new grid scale storage technologies, and £50m for upgrades to research equipment and laboratories.

Another £25m is allocated to develop the Advanced Metrology Laboratory at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, and £65 million goes to research institutes, including the development of Rothamsted Research Campus, Aberystwyth, Harwell Oxford and SciTech Daresbury.

These investments build on the £108m of Autumn Statement funding detailed in the Strategy for UK Life Sciences, covering synthetic biology, regenerative medicine and the National Biologics Industry Innovation Centre.

The government has also allocated £28m to the National Composites Centre in Bristol. All this investment adds up to £600 million announced by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement.

Willetts said, "Strong science and flexible markets is a good combination of policies. But it is not enough. It misses out crucial stuff in the middle - real decisions on backing key technologies on their journey from the lab to the marketplace.

"It is our historic failure to back this which lies behind the familiar problems of the so-called 'valley of death' between scientific discoveries and commercial applications."