12 May 2021

Queen’s Speech 2021: UK Government confirms plans to establish Advanced Research and Invention Agency

The Queen’s Speech was held yesterday, 11 May 2021, announcing the UK Government’s plans for the year ahead. We were pleased to see that the Government is planning ‘the fastest ever increase in public funding for research and development’, along with plans to pass legislation to establish the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency.

This is not a completely new idea for this Government; research and development (R&D) was a key focus in the Queen’s Speech back in December 2019, when the Government set out its intention to make the UK a ‘global science superpower’ that attracts brilliant people and businesses from across the world and said it would unveil R&D funding plans to accelerate its ambition to bring R&D spending up to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. The Government flagged back then its intention to create a new approach to funding emerging fields of research and technology by providing long term funding to support visionary ‘high-risk, high-pay off’ scientific, engineering, and technology.

£14.9 billion is currently being invested in R&D in 2021-22, meaning UK Government R&D spending is now at its highest level in real terms for four decades. This investment reinforces the Government’s commitment to putting R&D at the heart of plans to build back better from the pandemic, and includes funding for association to Horizon Europe, investing at least £490 million in Innovate UK in 2021-22. The Government has said it will increase public spending on R&D to £22 billion by 2027.

Over the last 18 months or so, the Government has been finessing some of these ideas for investing in R&D, and this high-risk, high-reward approach now has a name: the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), which, as confirmed in the March 2020 Budget, will receive £800 million of government funding by 2024-25. ARIA is intended to ‘unleash the potential of the UK’s world-class research and science base’ and more details of those plans were announced this week. It will support ground-breaking technology, with the potential to produce transformational benefits to our economy and society, new technologies and new industries. The plan is to provide a similar model to the Advanced Research Projects Agency set up by the US government in 1958, whose investment in research led to the creation of the internet and the Global Positioning System (GPS)

So how will ARIA differ in its approach from the UK R&D funding currently on offer? One of its aims is to tolerate failure in order to allow for very ambitious research. Whilst this may seem odd, the rewards from accepting a higher level of risk compared to traditional public investment could be very high indeed. As IP attorneys working so closely with innovators, we know that it is not possible to simply predict what the next big technology may be; without the opportunity to fund a range of (potentially absurd) ideas, it may never be found.

The ARIA Bill, which is currently at the ‘report stage’ in the House of Commons, also plans to give ARIA a large amount of autonomy and freedoms over its day-to-day affairs in order to achieve this and encourage investment in areas that do not currently receive public funding (perhaps those that are viewed as too odd or too risky). One of the proposals in the Bill is that the Secretary of State will have the power to dissolve ARIA only after 10 years. This makes sense; if the strategy is high-risk, high-reward, there may be many failures before we see anything commercially successful result from this different approach to funding and we will need to give it time before deciding whether this funding approach has a long-term future for the UK. 

The intention is that ARIA will help ensure the breakthroughs of the future happen in the UK. We look forward to seeing the exciting research, inventions and technologies that come out of this new agency.

Miranda Kent
Managing Associate