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The UK National Quantum Strategy explained

UK quantum strategy
Image credit: Bartlomiej K. Wroblewski via Shutterstock

The UK government has been vocal about its ambition to make the country a “science and tech superpower”. In that spirit, it has unveiled a 10-year strategy, backed by £2.5bn of public funding, to support Britain’s quantum computing industry.

Announced by the chancellor in his recent Spring Statement speech, the new National Quantum Strategy offers a bold claim that the UK should and will be leading the entire quantum sector in 10 years’ time.

Quantum computers use subatomic particles that can exist in more than one state, which means they can carry out multiple calculations at once compared to the linear calculations of classical computers. This promises superior computing power that could revolutionise sectors such as finance and drug discovery.

But how exactly does the government plan to meet its ambitious quantum goal? Chancellor Jeremy Hunt provided little in the way of detail during his Budget speech last week beyond the headline funding figure.

UKTN has looked at the National Quantum Strategy in more detail to find out what it means for the sector.

UK quantum strategy goals for 2033

In addition to the somewhat broad goal of becoming the leading nation for quantum innovation, the 10-year plan sets out specific targets for the UK quantum industry to hit by 2033:

  • Fund 1,000 new postgraduate research students in quantum-relevant disciplines.
  • Grow the UK’s share of quantum-related private equity investment to 15%, up from the most recent figure of 12%.
  • Ensure all tech companies and relevant businesses have taken steps to prepare for the arrival of quantum and establish the global standard for quantum regulation.

The £2.5bn investment broken down

The most grabbing part of Hunt’s quantum announcement was the allocation of £2.5bn in funding. The new figure is more than double the previous government investment goal of £1bn.

But where will this money go? While the destiny of every penny is not yet clear, the figure will be put into a variety of quantum R&D projects from 2024 onwards. Among these are a “future network of research hubs”, which will receive a £100m chunk of the funding.

New accelerator programmes specialising in the commercialisation of quantum startups will receive £20m of funding.

Training programmes to increase the amount of quantum-skilled workers, which include fellowships and doctoral training, will receive £25m.

Meanwhile, £15m will go towards the procurement of quantum technologies by the government for public use.

A programme of quantum computing and positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) missions, to be conducted as pilots over the next three years, will be allocated £70m. These missions will look to demonstrate the advantage of quantum computers over classical devices and develop the UK’s PNT capabilities, which are essential for new navigational technologies.

The strategy will also give a £20m boost to the funding provided to the National Quantum Computing Centre, which was launched in 2020.

The government is also requesting that the private sector contributes £1bn of investment into the growth of the sector throughout the duration of the national plan.

Boosting quantum talent

While the funding of fellowships is a key aspect of the government’s plan to grow the talent pool for the quantum computing industry, it won’t be enough alone to establish a world-leading quantum workforce.

According to the quantum strategy, tech visas will also play a key role in achieving the 2033 roles, with an update to the various routes foreign tech workers can take to move to the UK coming soon.

Despite stressing the importance of supporting tech visa schemes, the government has yet to announce the future of the Global Talent Visa programme, which is currently run by the soon-to-be-closed Tech Nation.

The government will also look to increase the representation of quantum roles in its apprenticeship scheme.

Supporting financial viability

The ultimate goal of the strategy is, of course, to turn the exciting technology of quantum computing into a financially thriving industry that can support the UK economy.

While quantum has been picking up some respectable funding rounds in recent years, such as Quantum Motion’s £42m raise and Oxford Quantum Circuit’s £38m Series A round, it remains a research-intensive industry that struggles to bring in profits in the early days.

To combat this, the government will launch a quantum business growth directory, which will outline to startups all of the support options available to them. It also intends to implement regulatory reforms for pension funds to encourage more investment.

“The government is legislating to implement important regulatory changes such as reform of the pensions regulatory charge cap, which will provide clarity for industry and ensure pension savers stand to benefit from higher potential investment returns,” the strategy read.

Quantum regulation

As a relatively new technology, there is very little existing regulation to govern quantum computing. The government’s position is that leading the industry will require leading the regulation of the industry, and so it will look to establish the global standard for quantum governance.

The strategy offers limited details as to what this will look like. However, it is sure to reiterate as often as possible the bottom line of balancing innovation with safety. A regulatory review of quantum technologies from the Regulatory Horizons Council will be commissioned to determine the best way to do this.