The rhetoric is set, but the ambition - what does it actually mean to be a science and technology superpower - will require addressing several multi-layered and long-standing challenges facing the UK's society and economy. By techUK's Head of Technology and Innovation Programme, Laura Foster
UK Government has expressed an ambition to make the UK a “science and tech superpower by 2030” - a long-standing an oft-repeated statement through Government strategies including the Integrated Review, the more recent Spring Statement, as well as cascades of speeches from ministers & Government Representatives alike. More recently, this has underpinned announcements around the new Department of Science, Innovation and Technology - the UK's foundation from which “to deliver the UK's most innovative economy in the world” - its complementary Science and Technology Framework, and individual technology strategies such as the National Quantum Strategy.
The rhetoric is set, but the ambition - what does it actually mean to be a science and technology superpower - will require addressing several multi-layered and long-standing challenges facing the UK's society and economy, while concomitantly opening pathways within Government to support pioneering innovation. This will certainly require moving beyond the political fray; it will require recognising areas of particular strength in UK innovation, and crucially, applying that innovation to the UK economy.
How this significant ambition will be achieved by Government remains to be fully understood. Even with the Science and Technology Framework with the intent to set a clear roadmap, in a year before an election stifles what can be done to underscore certainty with long-standing investment into technology ecosystems. It poses whether the superpower rhetoric may be remembered as a missed opportunity - just as the “white heat” of technology fizzled sixty years earlier as government strained to deliver national renewal.
It should be recognised that the UK is certainly not starting from zero, already possessing one of the greatest technology and innovation heritages from Turing's computer to DNA sequencing; more recently hosting a highly sophisticated AI innovation industry, ranking third globally and first in Europe. Whilst the roadmap to success remains undecided, there is a considerable opportunity for the UK tech sector to utilise this experience and expertise to supercharge the UK's ambition towards the status as a global leader in technology and innovation. In turn, Government and the tech sector can work together to develop the right conditions for world leading research and development in the UK.