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Autumn Statement 2015: Investment in catapult centres could fortify UK's strong global position

4 min read

25 November 2015

Chancellor George Osborne’s Emergency Budget contained little concrete detail about the funding prospects for the nation's science sector, but the 2015 Autumn Statement and Spending Review has confirmed an increase in investment in catapult centres.

In a report published in November 2014, Hermann Hauser set out his recommendations on the future scope of Britain’s catapult network. Although the report included sustained investment in the existing catapults, more effective engagement with small businesses and a more coherent model for working with universities, Hauser specifically called for a long-term expansion of the network. Essentially, one or two technology and innovation centres would be created each year, leading to a total of 20 by 2020 and 30 by 2030.

Hauser said: “The existing catapult centres are a great stride forward but will need continued support to strengthen capability, remain world-beating and to expand capabilities. The UK is playing catch up with the best innovation systems in the world in translational infrastructure, so I’m encouraged to see how rapidly we are closing the gap.”

He added that in the years ahead the catapults could have a “long-lasting impact” on the country’s economic performance. It was thus a given, combined with hints from Osborne’s Summer Budget document suggesting proposals for more catapult centres, that Osborne has announced an increase of investment in catapult centres – not to mention further funding for the Aerospace Technology Institute and the Advanced Propulsion Centre.

This builds on the £69m investment in catapults that the chancellor announced in the 2014 Budget and further builds on plans to build a Northern Powerhouse as seen by the £5m for a new catapult in medicines technologies in Cheshire. 

Read more about the Autumn Statement:

According to EEF chief economist Lee Hopley: “Keeping the funding for catapult centres on a stable footing is great news for innovative businesses across the UK. Maintaining the balance of funding between government and the private sector will help ensure the UK continues to encourage the kind of collaboration that will help innovators traverse the ‘valley of death’.

“The priority now is to keep the existing centres at the cutting edge of technology and expand the network as and when additional resources become available.”

Also commenting on the chancellor’s commitment to increase funding for catapult centres, Karl Barnfather, chairman of Withers & Rogers, said it was a significant boost for enterprise and innovation in the UK. “The protection of vital sources of funding for the UK’s business community will support ongoing investment in R&D to ensure this country remains in a strong global position,” he said.

This was echoed by a report by PwC, which maintained that the wider European region has become less attractive for R&D investment and is now in third place behind Asia and North America.

Ashley Unwin, head of consulting at PwC’s UK branch claimed that almost 90 per cent of British CEOs saw digital technologies as vital to their success and a source of competitive advantage, while 84 per cent were worried about skills gaps.  

“If the UK is to address these CEO concerns and thrive as a growing knowledge economy, the long-term decline in UK R&D investment must be reversed,” Unwin said. “Global R&D competition is intense but the U.K. is well-positioned to reverse the R&D decline.” And the catapult network, Unwin explained, is one way to rectify the situation.