Tech secretary Michelle Donelan has said she is working to make it easier for British companies to access Horizon Europe funding as the UK looks to secure its science ‘superpower’ status.
Horizon Europe is the European Union’s flagship research and innovation program for the period 2021 to 2027, and is a collaboration between Europe’s leading research institutes and technology companies, as well as researchers from New Zealand, Canada and Israel.
The UK left the Horizon scheme after its formal departure from the EU in January 2020. But the UK struck a deal with Brussels last year to rejoin the research programme, recognising its importance for fostering innovation and economic growth.
Donelan today met with the European research commissioner Iliana Ivanova to galvanise leaders in the UK’s science and business communities to apply for Horizon Europe funding that could enable scientific breakthroughs.
Donelan said: “The UK’s bespoke deal on Horizon has opened up a whole world of opportunity for our researchers, from the £80bn funding that’s available, to the vast benefits that come from working hand-in-hand with colleagues from Europe to Canada to New Zealand.”
The average Horizon grant is worth £450,000 to a UK business or researcher. Additionally, “pump priming” grants of up to £10,000 are being offered to encourage UK bids for Horizon funding, particularly targeting researchers and businesses who have not previously applied.
At a press conference in London, Donelan addressed the issue of the complex application process, which she said smaller businesses might find time consuming and tricky to navigate.
“This is something that I’m particularly passionate about,” the secretary of state said. “My father ran a very small business and I know how time poor people are when they operate small or medium-sized businesses.”
To address this issue, the government has ramped up marketing efforts, created roadshows so businesses can speak to experts and established a new ‘portal’ via UK Research and Innovation, designed to streamline the processes, information and support available to all businesses.
Ivanova admitted the application process can be “difficult sometimes”, adding that the European side is also committed to fixing this problem with Horizon. “I’ve made it my personal priority to make this programme more accessible and simpler, especially for the SMEs,” she said.
It comes as Rishi Sunak’s government is steering UK efforts to be a global science and technology ‘superpower’.
But the science community has warned that the success of the Prime Minister’s pet project relies on more than just funding. It has criticised the government’s expensive new visa rules, which have been dubbed a ‘talent tax’ as they could deter highly skilled workers from living and working in the UK.
This month the fees charged for skilled workers to use the NHS rose from £624 to £1,035 a year. As part of the government reforms – which are aimed at trimming migration to the UK by 300,000 a year before the upcoming election – the cost of visas could also rise by at least 15 per cent.
The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of sciences, has slammed the current system as a “punitive tax on talent,” citing upfront visa costs up to 10 times higher than other leading science nations.
When quizzed on these concerns by media, Donelan defended the health surcharge, saying it was the first rise since 2018.
“Given the period that we’ve had since 2018 and the considerable inflationary increases across the board, we did have to increase it by a fair and proportionate amount to be able to accommodate and support our NHS,” she explained.
“When it comes to being an attractive beacon for talent and drawing in expertise from across the globe: do we want to continue to do that? Absolutely.”