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Budget 2017: Disruptive technologies get funding boost

Today’s Budget headlines centred around a tax hike for the self-employed, but buried away in the small print was detail on an issue that is likely to have even more significant long-term implications for construction. 

The policy in question is the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The government revealed today it will commit to an initial investment of £270m in 2017-18 to the fund, to “kick-start the development of technologies that have the potential to disrupt the UK economy”.

The first wave of areas that will compete for this funding were also revealed. 

So what is the fund exactly?

Details of the policy were first announced by prime minister Theresa May at the CBI Annual Conference 2016; it was also mentioned in the Industrial Strategy green paper as a new funding stream to support innovation.

The first engagement with industry around the fund began in January this year, when the government invited businesses and scientists to contribute their thoughts on how it could help support them.

The idea is that it will enable the newly created body – UK Research and Innovation – to back technologies at all stages “where the UK has the potential to take an industrial lead”.

Today’s announcement put some flesh on the bones of which industries are likely to see the benefit of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. 

Encouragingly for construction, one of the three challenge areas will focus on the development of artificial intelligence and robotics systems with the ability to operate in extreme and hazardous environments – which means offshore, in nuclear environments, in deep mining, and even in space.

Another challenge area will focus on the development, design and manufacture of batteries to power the next generation of electric vehicles – which could have major implications for the renewables market should batteries with larger and more efficient storage capacity be developed.

We’re seeing some very encouraging signs from government that investment in R&D and technology is a high priority.

The UK still lags behind many other countries in this respect, but every announcement like this is a step in the right direction.

As Mark Farmer’s report on the construction labour market spelt out last year, the industry must ‘modernise or die’.

Taking advantage of all the innovation funding opportunities available, and making the most of the Industrial Strategy, will be vital if the industry is to achieve that goal.

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