Money Talks…

…But it can't sing and dance, and it can't walk, or so the song goes. Unfortunately, with the Four Freedoms - Goods, Services, People and Capital, people and capital can indeed walk away from the UK. Actually, capital flight has yet to be addressed for Brexit.

In the ongoing saga of the disarray in Parliament, the S&T Select Committee Chair, eventually received a reply letter, on the 6th September, and public commitment from the Chancellor to his request for additional funding for the UK National Quantum Technologies Hubs of £80m. The proviso being that this money shall be subject to normal business case applications.

However on the 12th September, after that days final Oral Evidence session from Sam Gyimah MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and Professor Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive, UK Research and Innovation, the Chair sent another letter to the Chancellor stating that “it does not match the £338m that the National Programme's Strategic Advisory Board sought in their bit for phase 2 “.

Unfortunately, even this £80m shall not be made available until after November 2019, and the actual allocation for phase 2, if it occurs, will not be decided until the Government’s three-year Spending Review has been agreed in 2019. So, why the urgency? Is it merely public expenditure to enable the UK to go its own way? After all, the EU's FP9/Horizon 2020 is still being evaluated and the government is seeking to buy its way in here.

We have yet to see the reply from the Chancellor, but this exchange of letters is most unusual as the Chair pre-empted his own inquiry by providing provisional findings in his extended letter.

So, what have we learned so far from the oral evidence? Actually, nothing new technically, though entanglement-based networking and the development of continuous-variable as well as discrete-variable QKD for coherent systems got mentioned.

As for that old “world-leading” chestnut, the minister stated “Q356....Mr Gyimah: “Chair, you are absolutely right; the UK has a world-leading position in this technology—I think we are third only to China and the US.” I still don't get how you can lead by being third? Or is this just me?

Fortunately, sanity prevailed in the following reply to “Q359 Chair: Do you feel confident that we will be able to develop that world leading industry base on the back of the academic expertise? Professor Sir Mark Walport: Academic expertise is necessary but not sufficient. It is very important, but the challenge is to turn that knowledge into innovation and products.”. Alas, as readers will most likely know, necessary and sufficient are the two essential criteria for mathematical proofs. But that reply probably wen over the politicians’ heads.

What was the points the minister really sought to lay before the Inquiry? To me it was the following:
Q239 Mr Gyimah: We can look at this from a regulatory perspective as well. There are lots of emerging technologies out there. We know that they could all have a transformational impact. Which aspect of them has impact and on what particular industries is not always very clear now, but one of the things we can do as a country is to make sure that when it comes to regulatory standards we lead the way—because regulation is emerging—and, in doing so, we can make the UK one of the places a researcher or entrepreneur looks to in order to turn their ideas into reality. That is what I see as the purpose of the regulatory pioneers’ fund; it is beginning to allow us to do that. Whether in the field of AI or quanta, we can begin to think about the standards that can help move industry forward but also protect society, and, through that, make ourselves attractive to people with ideas. That is another way to approach this, rather than trying to guess and predict, and I am certainly not the one to do this. We definitely do not want Ministers playing that game. What we can do is create the right environment for people to turn ideas into reality.”

Unfortunately, no one told the minister that you cannot regulate from third place, even with a new Enterprise Act. But it was disclosed that BIS and DCMS are working jointly on a Quantum Technologies Report to be made available by Christmas. I look forward to reading it along with the governments reply to the full Quantum Technologies report.

As a final insight I would bring your attention to the following final brief exchange:

“Q448 Chair: What confused me was that, on Innovate UK funding, our briefing says that “at least 70% of total eligible project costs should be incurred by commercial organisations.” Professor Sir Mark Walport: No. Q449 Chair: That, apparently, comes from Innovate UK’s website. What you were saying appeared to be the other way around. I think the best thing is— Professor Sir Mark Walport: We expect it to be 50:50 for big companies, but we recognise that small companies may not be able to contribute 50:50, so they have to contribute 30%. Q450 Chair: A note clarifying that, in liaison with others— Professor Sir Mark Walport: I will clarify that for the avoidance of doubt. I think I probably did answer the question you asked, but— Stephen Metcalfe: I think you might have done. Chair: Thank you both very much indeed. We appreciate your time.”

Does not exactly inspire confidence that public taxpayers’ money will be well allocated. Does it?

As for 5G? The UK is now apparently leading from 5th place. I shall come on to this next.

Barry McKeown
21st September 2018