Government agency Innovate UK has scrapped its built environment arm in a bid to bring down costs, Construction News can reveal.
Innovate UK’s director of infrastructure systems Ian Meikle confirmed the agency had cut its 17 funding streams down to just five.
The move means the built environment funding stream, through which construction companies could bid for grant funding for research and development, will no longer be ringfenced.
Construction companies will instead compete for funding against businesses from other industries.
Mr Meikle said this would “simplify” the process and insisted it could result in “more opportunities for construction firms”.
Construction News also understands Innovate UK will look to cut its workforce by a third this year.
Mr Meikle said he “did not recognise” that figure but admitted the agency was looking at its staffing levels.
The move is part of a cost-cutting drive across the agency.
Innovate UK is a government agency that sits within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
It provides funding for companies and partner organisations for science and technological innovations and has invested more than £79m in the construction industry alone between 2008 and 2015, funding more than 580 projects and work by 800 companies, including Skanska, Costain and Laing O’Rourke.
The agency will now have five funding streams: technology, health and life sciences, infrastructure systems and manufacturing sectors, as well as an ‘open’ stream.
There will be £150m of funding available for the infrastructure systems stream this year, which will cover future cities, transport systems and offshore renewable energy.
In addition to those four streams, there will be an ‘open’ stream where companies from all industries can compete for grants.
However, it is believed around 300-400 companies will be able to bid for funding for around 40 projects through the open stream, meaning securing funding will be more competitive.
Under the axed built environment stream, between 30 and 60 applicants were able to bid for funding for around 15 projects.
Mr Meikle said: “What we have done across the whole piece is listen to the government and our customers and said we had too many sectors and have decided to simplify these into four sectors.
“Some companies might go away and say my sector isn’t necessarily name checked; that’s not true and we have focused on all individual limited companies across the UK.
“In my sector I will absolutely look at construction.”
Costain group innovation & knowledge manager Tim Embley said that he could ”only see positives” coming out of the new system.
Mr Embley said: “What industry has been asking for over the last few years is for government to actually make things a lot more easier to deal with.
”Government has streamlined investment to match the nation’s strategic needs, which can only be a good thing.”
He added that while there would be more industries competing for grants within the funding streams, the new broader scope encouraged greater collaboration between construction companies and firms in other sectors.