Kwasi Kwarteng – 2021 Statement on the Advance Research and Invention Agency

The statement made by Kwasi Kwarteng, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in the House of Commons on 22 February 2021.

The UK has a proud history of scientific excellence and invention. Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace and, later, Alan Turing pioneered early predecessors of the computer. Thomas Newcomen and James Watt gave us the steam engine, and Michael Faraday gave us the modern battery.

This Government are committed to continuing this tradition and cementing our role as a science superpower. That is why our manifesto committed to creating a new funding agency, focused on high-risk, high-reward research. I am pleased to update the House that we will be fulfilling this commitment through a new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), and we will also be introducing a Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows to create this body.

ARIA will have the sole focus to fund ground-breaking research—research that sparks transformational societal change through the creation of new technologies and new industries.

With £800 million committed to ARIA up to 2024-25, ARIA will form a central part of delivering on our R&D road map, published in July 2020, to ensure the UK is the best place for scientists, researchers, and entrepreneurs to live and work, while helping to power up the UK’s economic and social recovery.

As we have developed ARIA, we have sought best practice from international partners. Success stories include DARPA in the US, whose predecessor, ARPA, was instrumental in creating transformational technologies like the internet and GPS. More recently, DARPA has been behind precursors to technologies such as Apple’s SIRI.

We have also listened to the scientific community about how these models can best be adapted for the UK to enhance our R&D offer. This includes ensuring ARIA complements existing funders and makes a distinct contribution to the wider R&D landscape. To this end, ARIA will have a bespoke purpose and structure, and will work in partnership with UKRI and across the ecosystem.

ARIA’s key features will be:

A singular focus on high-risk, high reward research funding. ARIA will provide support for transformational, long-term science and technology. ARIA will not be restricted in whether it funds pure science, applied science, or technological development—in fact, often it will do aspects of each within a single programme.

A high tolerance for risk and failure. Failure is part of the scientific process, and particularly central to finding the technological breakthroughs that have the potential to create the industries and jobs of the future. ARIA will not shy away from high risk, in the pursuit of high rewards.

Minimal bureaucracy. The recent approach to covid-19 rapid response funds and the vaccine taskforce has led to a cultural shift around funding and decision making, towards a more lean and agile system, and ARIA will continue this trend. It will have an innovative approach to funding, with the ability to use mechanisms such as seed grants and prizes to ensure the best support for the best ideas. ARIA’s programme managers will be able to pull in scientists on projects within in a matter of weeks.

To empower exceptional talent. ARIA will be run by exceptional scientists who have the expertise to identify the most exciting and ground-breaking research to invest in. Government will invest in these exceptional individuals, empowering them to use their expertise to identify what research to back rather than providing a research focus for the organisation, and giving them the freedom to start and stop projects quickly and redirect funding efficiently.

Alongside the Bill, we will recruit a visionary CEO and experienced chair. They will develop ARIA by setting the agenda, shaping the culture, and building an exceptional team for the agency.

ARIA will further diversify our rich and dynamic R&D system, taking us to the next level of scientific and technological advances. Its successes stand to have an impact on how we fund R&D in the future, and ensure we maintain our outstanding global reputation for innovation and discovery.