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A new innovation strategy

The Government’s new Innovation Strategy looks to identify those areas where the UK has globally competitive R&D and industrial strengths that it’s hoped will transform the economy going forward

It includes areas such as: advanced materials, AI, digital and advanced computing; bioinformatics and genomics and electronics, photonics and quantum.

The strategy aims to drive an increase in annual public investment on R&D to more than £22 billion and will look at how best to extract the value from innovation.

The strategy will look at regulation and how we can attract and retain highly-skilled talent, as well as assess the current landscape of UK organisations undertaking all forms of research, development and innovation. It will also look to reduce the complexity companies face in bringing products to market by developing an online finance and innovation hub between Innovate UK and the British Business Bank.

It’s certainly comprehensive and Innovate UK and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will be working to operationalise the strategy.

All very commendable but the UK government’s record on supporting cutting edge technology is not a great one and as if to highlight those failings, if further highlighting was needed, is the proposed acquisition of the Newport Wafer Fab by the Chinese owned Dutch company Nexperia.

Beyond all the political posturing of Conservative and Labour MPs who have raised national security concerns because Nexperia is a Chinese-backed firm - Boris Johnson has also asked his national security advisor to review the deal – it simply highlights just how seriously behind the UK is when it comes to having a strong and dynamic semiconductor industry.

While Newport's Wafer Fab is the largest chip manufacturer in the UK and is a key component of the CSconnected semiconductor cluster, based in south-east Wale, the value of the deal, which has not been published but is thought to be in the region of £60m, pales when compared to other deals for facilities around the world. Texas Instruments splashed out $900m for a vacant Micron fab located in Utah, for example.

The value of the UK’s largest wafer fabrication site is minimal because its technology is not advanced. Its photolithography process is only 180nm, which is a technology that dates back to 1999, and as such can only produce processors, memory, or other logic critical components.

Talk of ‘safeguarding the national interest’ does appear to be somewhat wide of the mark and the attention being paid to it seems out of proportion - perhaps we should really be focused on the successive failure of UK governments to support and invest in cutting edge technologies.

Neil Tyler

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