Catapult network ‘could have had greater impact’, says review

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A report written by Dr Herman Hauser published in 2010 – The Current and Future Role of Technology Innovation Centres in the UK – called for the Government to commit itself to establishing and funding a network of TICs in areas where the UK had the potential to benefit.

The result was the Catapult Network. Reviewing its progress in 2014, Dr Hauser said Catapults were ‘firing on all cylinders’. But a recently published review of the Catapult Network undertaken by Ernst and Young (EY) for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) suggests progress may have stalled somewhat.

According to EY, ‘implementation of the Catapult concept has been inconsistent and could have had a significantly greater impact in delivering innovation, economic benefits and value for money that would have been more consistent with the benefits envisaged when the concept was initiated’.

Having said that, EY concluded the Catapult concept was sound and – when implemented effectively – has the potential to drive innovation and economic benefit to the UK.

One of the issues which EY found was no common purpose. ‘There has been no single, commonly agreed and consistently communicated purpose statement for Catapults that has been applied across the network and reflected from strategy through delivery plans to performance measurement and evaluation’, the report contends.

Similarly, Innovate UK – the funding organisation for the network – was found to have not been sufficiently robust when it came to financial and performance management. There was, according to EY, ‘limited evidence of timely intervention where Catapults’ performance targets and wider objectives have not been met’. It also suggests that, due to the scale of investment, direct ministerial oversight of the Catapults is required, as well as active ministerial involvement in the governance process.

In total, the consultancy makes 38 recommendations, some of which it suggests should be met before further funding is provided.

In particular, all Catapults should have clarity of purpose, with robust, focused business plans supported by measurable milestone plans that will lead to economic benefits for the UK economy.

Looking at individual Catapults, EY said the Transport Systems, Digital and Future Cities Catapults need to submit detailed plans of their activities and interim milestones for the next 12 months, which then need to be agreed with Innovate UK. This, it implies, will provide confidence that the Catapults are on track to achieve their longer-term objectives. Failure to reach agreement should see further funding halted.

Recently launched Catapults, including the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult, should continue to be developed, EY says, subject to its recommendations being implemented.

‘Given that funding for all Catapults needs to be renewed by April 2018, we recommend that BEIS makes a decision on the future of the Catapult network as soon as possible and by the end of 2017 at the latest’, the report concludes.