DSIT: How has the tech department fared so far?

DSIT tech

Last week, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) marked 100 days since its launch in February. The government created DSIT to “drive innovation” and focus solely on supporting the UK’s science and tech sectors.

But what has it achieved so far, and where do UK tech stakeholders think it can do more?

The initial reaction to creating a dedicated science and technology department was positive. Previously the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport had been juggling important technology issues like 5G alongside an eclectic mix of museum budgets and sporting events.

Announcements from DSIT have since come thick and fast. In the 2023 Budget, DSIT launched the International Technology Strategy – a £3.5bn investment to make the UK a science and technology superpower by 2030, alongside a framework on how this will be achieved.

Promised investment and industry backing for life sciences manufacturing shot up to £277m for 2022/23 – up from £75m total in 2021/22 – and plans for research collaboration with the EU began.

Other big pledges include the 10-year National Quantum Strategy backed by £2.5bn of public funding, and all populated areas are to have 5G by 2030.

The government also allocated £370m in funding to invest in technology such as AI. Just last month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced an AI taskforce backed by £100m in government funding to “accelerate” the UK’s generative AI sector and keep pace with rapid advances in technologies like ChatGPT.

And let’s not forget one of the key stories in the tech world so far this year – the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank UK. Ministers from DSIT, including Tech Secretary Michelle Donelan, spoke with industry leaders and startup representatives to decide a rescue approach, playing a role in its eventual private sale to HSBC.

Jason Teng, partner and patent attorney at Potter Clarkson, told UKTN: “Shortly after DSIT was established, it was great to see the launch of The Science and Technology Framework in March to make the UK a science and technology superpower by 2023, and a review by leading experts into best practices in university spinouts.

“While these are important first steps, it is crucial to create momentum and maintain focus beyond the first 100 days to achieve long-lasting success. This can be achieved by engaging willing stakeholders throughout the UK’s innovation ecosystem such as SMEs, corporates, technology parks and professional service providers, and not just universities, founders and investors.”

More to do

This momentum is what many industry leaders are questioning. While DSIT’s promises are significant, some say other areas are not being prioritised enough.

In March, Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, wrote for UKTN about the need for DSIT to double down on the growing talent shortage in the UK’s tech industry.

“It will be important for the new DSIT to solve the tech talent shortage in the short term through increased investment in skills development programmes, engaging untapped talent pools, and ensuring that the Global Talent Visa is supported and protected,” he said.

Others believe DSIT simply hasn’t done enough in the past 100 days, and say political promises are one thing but tangible action is something very different.

“The launch of DSIT was such an exciting day for the tech ecosystem, a clear sign of the government’s commitment to support a sector that has a vital part to play in driving the UK economy forward. However, 100 days later we’re left questioning what’s really been achieved,” said Cordelia Meacher, managing director at UK tech-focused public relations agency FieldHouse Associates.

“No doubt the good intentions are there, and those intentions have been reiterated at multiple set-piece events, but where’s the immediate action to make real change?”

She added that the funding set aside for areas uch as AI and becoming a technology and science superpower are comparable to a “mid-sized” European VC fund.

Can DSIT deliver?

In February, two dozen figures in UK tech investment – including chief executives from SFC Capital, Triple Point Ventures, Jenson Funding Partners and UK Business Angels Association – sent a letter to DSIT asking them to address five “urgent issues” to support UK innovation.

Key points included asking DSIT to examine the commercialisation of technology developed at UK universities, with the signatories expressing a desire to see the tech department emphasise innovation beyond London, Oxford and Cambridge.

The letter also called for pension reforms to encourage funds to invest more into the venture capital industry, a robust intellectual property strategy, and clarity on the future of the tech visa scheme.

The creation of the new department means some experts are still unsure exactly what remit DSIT it working towards – and that is leaving many sceptical about what can actually be achieved for different tech sectors.

“The formation of this new department has changed the approach to problem-solving and seems to be more joined up, but it’s yet to be proven what exactly falls within its remit when it comes to the delivery of solutions,” Alan Thompson, head of government affairs at Scottish rocket company Skyrora, told UKTN.

“While the International Technology Strategy released by DSIT was a promising step in the right direction, the UK tech ecosystem is anticipating concrete actions to back up its pledges and support the industry. In turn, this will catalyse the growth required to enable the country to reach ‘science superpower’ status.

“Within the UK Space sector, we hope to see a continuation of the useful interaction and engagement with the wider industry to date. In particular, the issue of insurance – one of the UK’s areas of expertise – is coming to the fore and we are keen to see DSIT move forward with facilitating and delivering real change in this sphere.”

Last week DSIT delivered the long-awaited National Semiconductor Strategy, which sets out how up to £1bn of government investment will boost the UK’s strengths and skills in design, R&D and compound semiconductors, all while helping to grow domestic chip firms across the UK.

The strategy received mix reception, with experts praising the direction but others calling the allocated funding “disappointing”.

It’s another big announcement from DSIT – but as with its previous promises, the tech industry will be focusing on how it’s delivered.