The government announced its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) in last year’s Autumn Statement, with potential benefits for the construction industry in store.
The first three areas to receive investment were also revealed then, and last week business secretary Greg Clarke has put further flesh on the ISCF’s bones by announcing how much investment is going to go to each field, subject to business case approval.
Where the money goes
Probably of most direct relevance to construction, robotics and artificial intelligence will receive an investment of £93m over four years to “develop AI and robotics systems that can be deployed in extreme environments which occur in offshore energy, nuclear energy, space and deep mining”.
A much larger investment of £243m will go towards research into clean and flexible energy, or the ‘Faraday Challenge’, to help promote the design, development and manufacture of batteries for the electrification of vehicles – which could, of course, have implications for fleet and plant, as well as helping to boost the development of autonomous vehicles.
There is also £197m going towards research into cutting-edge healthcare and medicine.
On the topic of driverless cars, Mr Clark announced that this would one of three additional areas that will receive ISCF grants in the next four years.
“All of this investment is really encouraging, especially in those areas that may directly or indirectly benefit construction”
The plan is to invest £38m in “new collaborative research and development projects, working with industry partners to develop the next generation of AI and control systems need to ensure the UK is at the forefront of the driverless cars revolution” – providing an opportunity for infrastructure-minded companies to start contributing to this debate.
Manufacturing and future materials are also set to receive a boost in the shape of a new £26m R&D fund, initially targeted at the aerospace industry, but presumably with potential implications for building materials in the future.
The third area, less relevant for our industry, will see £99m spent on a new satellite test facility to boost the development of UK satellite technology.
All of this investment is really encouraging, especially in those areas that may directly or indirectly benefit construction.
And now that we know exactly how the money is being divided up, and how much is going towards each sector, it should become clearer where the opportunities are going to be for further R&D.
Construction must not squander this chance to get involved, to help boost the industry’s productivity, create new jobs, and promote growth across the sector.