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UK attempts to calm scientists with £200m Brexit hi-tech fund

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In a bid to ensure the UK will maintain its reputation as a ‘pioneering nation as it leaves the EU’ and is ‘at the forefront of science and technology innovation,’ UK Chancellor Philip Hammond has allocated £200m to support Britain’s fastest-growing industries as they prepare for Brexit.

In his spring judgement statement yesterday, Hammond announced that the government is putting £81 million into an extreme photonics application centre at the Harwell research centre in Oxfordshire to explore medical laser technology, supporting a £13 billion industry that employs around 65,000 people. The facility has already developed laser technology that can scan the chemical contents of objects and detect hazardous materials in airport luggage.

Elsewhere, £45 million is being invested to upgrade the data storage cloud computing infrastructure at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridgeshire, which is working on sequencing one million genomes and developing cell therapies for genetic diseases. £79m will also fund a supercomputer in Edinburgh.

The spending is part of the government’s aim to raise investment in research and development to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027, to help develop solutions for an aging society, artificial intelligence and the data revolution. 'UK scientific research is worth £36 billion and is at the cutting edge of international innovation and discovery,’ he said. ‘We want to retain pole position as we leave the EU,' he said. 

However, Carys Roberts, chief economist at the Institute for Public Policy Research, told The Guardian that Hammond needs to go much further to address the weaknesses of the UK economy and its persistently low rates of productivity growth. 

‘This is a small amount of money that is being spent in areas that already find it easy to raise funds. Concentrating support on hi-tech projects in Oxford and Cambridge is partly why we had a Brexit vote in the first place. It is other parts of the country and other industries that are desperately in need of government support,’ she said.

Image: Harwell research campus (credit: Harwell)

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