UK government unveils £14.6bn alternative to Horizon Europe

Article by Kerry Hebden

Guarded welcome for plans though preference remains association with EU

THE UK government has published a long-term strategy to support research and innovation in the UK should talks with the EU surrounding membership with the Horizon Europe scheme end in failure.

It has been over two years since the UK officially left the EU – a tumultuous period which saw tensions rise between the two over Northern Ireland trade rules.

Although a new deal known as the Windsor Framework has now been adopted by the UK and the EU, the UK’s participation in schemes including Horizon as well as the smaller Copernicus, Euratom Research & Training, and Fusion for Energy funding programmes, still faces uncertainty – a situation the government has called “intolerable.”

As a precaution, in case ongoing participation talks failed to reach an agreement, last year ministers announced “Plan B” – an alternative scheme designed to fill the funding gap left by the UK’s exclusion of Horizon.

Now dubbed “Pioneer”, the alternative programme, should it be required, would focus on four main themes to complement the country’s existing R&D investments: talent, which would enhance the UK’s investment in discovery research as well as the UK’s already strong talent offer; end-to-end innovation, aimed at increasing UK support to business-led innovation across sectors, technologies and UK regions; global collaboration, designed to complement and enhance existing international partnerships; and infrastructure, which would provide additional funding into UK science, research, technology and innovation infrastructure, building on programmes such as World Class labs.

Designed in partnership with the UK science, research, technology and innovation sectors, Pioneer would receive the same amount of funding as the government would have paid to associate to Horizon from 2021 to 2027. This means the UK would invest around £14.6bn (US$18.1bn) in Pioneer to 2028, including the support already provided to the sector via the Horizon Guarantee, ministers said.

Although the government reiterated its long-held position that association to Horizon Europe remains its preferred choice, initial details on Pioneer are being published now to give researchers and businesses the opportunity to give their input on the scheme.

The general reaction to Pioneer by the science and engineering community has been one of a guarded welcome, tinged with ongoing calls for the UK to continue to push for full association with the EU.

Sir Jim McDonald, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The strong preference of the academy and the wider global research and innovation community has always been for the UK to associate with Horizon Europe…Should association prove impossible even at this late stage the information in the prospectus for Pioneer will be helpful to the community in preparing for the measures that would be put in place under those circumstances.”

This article is adapted from an earlier online version.

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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