Budget Boost For Innovation, Green Tech and Skills

24 04 2009

More details are emerging about the new £750m Strategic Investment Fund announced in this year’s Budget to support advanced industrial projects of strategic importance to the country and the economy. The Fund promises to focus investment on innovative and fast growing companies in sectors including biotech, clean energy and digital media.

A £250m allocation from this Fund will be earmarked for low-carbon investment, while the Technology Strategy Board will receive £50m and UK Trade & Investment, which supports UK businesses trading internationally, will get £10m. There will also be enhanced capital allowances for energy-saving and water-efficient (environmentally beneficial) technologies.

Strategic investment

Innovation and ‘green’ sectors of the economy were heralded as big winners in the 2009 Budget, with an additional £500m of spending announced as part of an overall £1.4bn package of targeted support to boost Britain’s low-carbon sectors.

NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) welcomed the announcement on Budget Day. Its Chief Executive, Jonathan Kestenbaum, said: “Today the Government took a vital step on the road to recovery and the future looks a lot brighter for the UK’s entrepreneurs. The Fund will give a new vibrancy to the UK’s technology market and will bring about deep and lasting change to our economy.”

Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths-related (STEM) subjects in schools will benefit from a £2m investment to provide the knowledge and skills needed by some of the sectors where development will be concentrated thanks to new investments in innovation and strategically important technologies.

The NCGE already provides direct support for STEM entrepreneurs – for instance, through new FlyingStart Programmes for Engineers, with the Royal Academy of Engineering; Software Entrepreneurship and Online Business, last December with Microsoft and Agitavi Research; and now ‘Go WEST’ – Women in Engineering, Science and Technology. Candidates have until 15th May to apply for this event at the University of Surrey.

Support for business

The Budget saw a series of other measures introduced or extended to ease pressure on small businesses. Support for business in the current year looks fairly substantial. Chief among the measures is increasing to 40% tax relief to businesses on capital spending – for one year only. This scheme alone is forecast to cost the Treasury £1.64bn.

For loss-making companies, there will be the chance to reclaim taxes on profits made in the last three years until November 2010. A top-up trade credit insurance scheme will be introduced, which will match private sector trade credit insurance provision if insurers reduce their cover for businesses operating in the UK.

The total cost of deferring payments to HMRC through an extended Business Payment Support Service, the car scrappage scheme, improvements to venture capital investment schemes, and various other smaller initiatives is over £3.3bn.

Reacting to the budget on BBC Two’s Newsnight programme, Lord Karan Bilimoria, the Government’s National Champion for Graduate Entrepreneurship, said: “What we’ve got to do is encourage entrepreneurship, encourage enterprise. People forget the basics: that it is actually wealth creation and business that creates employment that pays the taxes that pay for public services.”


Meeting the green challenge

29 04 2008

The following news items from last week indicate different ways in which the UK higher education, business, and voluntary sectors are meeting the “green challenge”:

  • The University of Strathclyde announced the establishment of Europe’s first post-graduate course to teach budding entrepreneurs how to turn environmental ideas into business ventures. The MSc in environmental entrepreneurship will be taught for the first time in September.
  • “Green policies” are already embedded in the practices of the twelve companies who received a 2008 Queen’s Award for Enterprise in recognition of their outstanding achievements in Sustainable Development.
  • NESTA announced the shortlist of UK groups competing for its million-pound Big Green Challenge prize fund, by coming up with innovative ideas to tackle climate change in their communities.

Despite this activity, greening the UK remains a challenge, as a recent survey of the UK’s SMEs by the Tenon Forum indicated that the UK’s entrepreneurs are baulking against implementing environmental measures (it cost an estimated £3.1bn to “go green” in past year).

[See also The greening of entrepreneurship]

The greening of entrepreneurship

11 03 2008

Venture capital investment in clean technology businesses rose sharply in 2007, reflecting political and consumer support for a greener economy.   One competition for start-ups which reflects this is the Shell Springboard Awards – presented last week – which reward the UK’s best small business ideas for combating climate change.  This year’s winner, Paula Carey, runs Carbon8, a company which uses an ‘Accelerated Carbonation’ process to turn rubbish from landfill sites into building materials such as bricks or roofing.  Shell said that with government incentives, increased consumer awareness, and an estimated market value of £2.8bn, there are major opportunities for small businesses in the climate change market. 

Professor John Beddington, keynote speaker at the event and Chief Scientific Advisor to the government, urged businesses to help combat climate change: “We need innovators to provide solutions to the problem of climate change and entrepreneurs to take them to market”.  This view is further endorsed in the first of a two-part series in the Sunday Times, “Green means go for new firmswhich talks with entrepreneurs who have found that adopting an environmentally friendly policy can pay dividends.