Earlier this month the Queen opened a new session of Parliament by outlining the government's key plans and legislative changes. The speech is delivered by the monarch, but it is written by ministers. While the Queen touched on everything from relaxing planning permission to banning conversion therapy, there were some key bills included that will affect start-ups and the tech sector. In this blog we will break down three of the most interesting bills.
Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) Bill
Following its introduction to Parliament in March, the government is continuing with the legal process to develop a new independent agency to support cutting-edge research in the UK. The Chancellor has assigned £800 million to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, which will be led by researchers “given the freedom to drive forward the technologies of tomorrow”, according to the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng. The agency will also be exempt from freedom of information requests in a bid to protect intellectual property and the disclosure of sensitive scientific data. The ARIA’s creation recognises the importance of scientific innovation in tackling the pandemic, and is broadly modelled on the US’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, which supported innovations including the internet and GPS.
Businesses and academics can already apply for funding grants from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI); the ARIA will focus more specifically on “high risk, high reward” science and technology, with a higher tolerance for failure. The agency will be fully operational by 2022 and will have 10 years to prove itself as viable.
Academics and industry experts have welcomed more funding into research and innovation, but some have expressed concerns about the lack of direction of the new agency. Greg Clark, the Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, said that the agency lacked “a clear focus or purpose”, and questioned the decision not to develop the programme within the already established UKRI.
Since the government aims to support “inventors to turn their transformational ideas into new technologies, discoveries, products and services”, at Prolancer we are interested in how the ARIA will effectively engage industry within the research process. Indeed, Matthew Fell, CBI UK Chief Policy Director, has noted that “key to ARIA’s success will be strong business engagement to make sure the brilliant ideas developed can make it through to market”. We will be keeping a close eye on developments.
Skills and Post-16 Education Bill
Another key area of interest to hirers in the tech industry, and indeed more broadly, is the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.
This legislation aims to introduce a new system to increase participation in further education across England; all adults will be able to access “a flexible loan for higher-level education and training at university or college, useable at any point in their lives”. The loan can be used to provide the equivalent of up to four years' study and is applicable to both for full-time or part-time courses.
From a hiring perspective, the bill offers great potential. The government has spoken about bringing in a “lifetime skills guarantee”, making it easier for people to upskill no matter their age.
It is key, however, that the UK develops a better infrastructure to train people in high demand areas such as digital and deep tech. If education at all levels is not reformed, then the skills gap will only increase. Prolancer are currently supporting the UK Electronics Skills Foundation and Techworks to produce an independent report about future digital engineering skills required by our sector. Our objective is to better understand the gaps in education and training that exist in deep tech, and work with the public and private sector to address them. We would welcome your contributions; please spare a few minutes to complete our survey about the skills your organisation needs for the future – the survey is open until the 31st May.
Subsidy Control Bill
Like ARIA, the Subsidy Control Bill was carried over from the previous parliamentary term. The legislation will outline how the government will regulate financial aid to businesses, now that EU State Aid law is no longer applicable in the UK.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industry promise to “create a new, tailored UK-wide subsidy control framework” that will provide “more tailored financial support to businesses - including innovative, R&D focused industries to encourage job creation and growth across all parts of the UK”.
There is plenty of uncertainty around subsidies at the moment. The UK is bound to international obligations, such as with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and with the EU post-Brexit (as part of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement). These mean that subsidies linked to export performance and the privileging of domestic over imported goods are still prohibited. But, leaving the EU means there is not any general prohibition on the grant of subsidies, and there is no need for the government to obtain authorisation prior to granting a subsidy. However, the UK is obliged to notify WTO members every two years of subsidies that it has granted.
This offers a lot of scope for the government. They aim to ‘reflect the UK’s strategic interests, strengthen the Union, and help to drive economic growth and level up opportunity and prosperity across the whole of the UK as we build back better from the pandemic’ through targeted subsidies. Now that public consultation has closed, we’re interested to learn more about the bill over the coming months.
As the UK economy grows with confidence in the vaccine, and restrictions are eased, it is clear there is currently an opportunity for start-ups to use their flexible and adaptable structures to their advantage. We’ll be keeping an eye on these three bills, and are interested to see how they provide the technology sector with the skills to remain at the global cutting-edge. Find an expert with Prolancer.