U.K. Creates $1.1 Billion Agency to Fund ‘High-Risk’ Science

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The U.K. announced an 800 million-pound ($1.1 billion) agency to fund “high-risk, high-reward” scientific research as ministers seek to position the country as a science “superpower.”

The Advanced Research and Invention Agency will be able to invest at speed in risky projects and “have a much higher tolerance for failure than is normal,” the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Department said in a statement Friday. “In research the freedom to fail is often also the freedom to succeed.”

The new body, which is modeled on the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency, is part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s efforts to shape the U.K.’s post-Brexit identity, with science playing a key role. It follows a pledge by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak in November to invest 14.6 billion pounds in research and development in the 2021/22 tax year.

The government wants the agency to be fully operational by 2022, and a recruitment campaign will begin in coming weeks to hire an interim chief executive officer and chairman. It will be able to use various models to fund pioneering research including “program grants, seed grants, and prize incentives,” the business department said.

The agency will be funded with 800 million pounds through the end of 2024.

“By stripping back unnecessary red tape and putting power in the hands of our innovators, the agency will be given the freedom to drive forward the technologies of tomorrow,” Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said. “Today’s set of challenges -- whether disease outbreaks or climate change -- need bold, ambitious and innovative solutions.”

The opposition Labour Party welcomed the new agency while calling on the government to “urgently clarify” its mission and mandate, and spell out a multi-year plan for science funding.

Ed Miliband, Labour’s business spokesman, warned the agency should not have a blanket exemption from freedom of information laws, as reported earlier this week in The Times newspaper. That’s so taxpayers can know how their money is being invested, he said.

Funding from the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency, and its successor known as DARPA, helped create the Internet and global positioning system, and before the current pandemic, contributed to the development of vaccine technology that has since been used in coronavirus protections.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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