UK Government funded R&D “dead ends” are bleeding taxpayers’ money


The formation of the Government’s new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, provides a much needed opportunity to correct the UK’s fundamentally flawed innovation funding strategy, and to create a programme which drives more commercially-focused Research and Development (R&D)… with the potential to deliver billions in growth across our nation’s vital industries,” states Robert Garbett, one of the world’s foremost experts on drone technology, in a statement released today.

The UK Government has committed to expand R&D spending to £20 billion a year by 2024, reaching 2.4% of GDP by 2027.  However, Garbett argues “the innovation funding strategy implemented by the recently-abolished Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was on the road to nowhere, especially for drones”. The essential problem, he argues, is that “there is no overarching strategy in place for drones, with R&D funding taking place without a clear vision of what is needed to achieve what will deliver the most growth: commercialisation”.

Robert Garbett, Founder of Drone Major Group explains, “Many of the ‘Innovation funding’ organisations that distribute much of this funding are private companies whose entire business is based on bidding for and expending Government money.  This has resulted in the emergence of a self-perpetuating industry focused almost entirely on handing out taxpayers’ money, without a proper strategy for how to bring important emerging technology to market.”

 Garbett argues that “the fund-granting process usually omits any analysis of what the market needs. As a result, the UK spends and often wastes huge sums of taxpayers’ money developing R&D solutions leading to dead ends.” This is the reason, Garbett contends, that “despite the UK Government spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer pounds on drone testing and trialling, meaningful commercialisation is moving at a snail’s pace.”

Robert Garbett added: “There is no doubt that, used correctly, (R&D) funding is extremely important to the development and deployment of an emerging technology.  However, in the absence of a mature commercial drone industry with specific operational needs, there is a danger that technologies or capabilities are researched to satisfy ‘wishful thinking’ rather than realistic long-term advances for the UK economy.  To put it all into perspective, recent research[1] has shown that over the last 18 years almost £300million of taxpayers’ money has been spent by Innovate UK, all on companies which have since dissolved…

 “Furthermore, this wasteful, often aimless approach can be seen with the huge amounts of funding provided to explore the ‘over-hyped’ delivery of small packages by small un-manned air systems, which is a capability that is clearly not commercially viable, safe or socially acceptable.  In essence, we are spending lots of taxpayers’ money on things which are not, and may never be, required, and – in many cases – have been tried many times before.”

 Commenting on the proposed solution, Robert Garbett states, “What’s needed – and what I hope we will see from the newly-created Department for Science, Innovation & Technology – is a ‘commercialisation’ programme with a clear focus: to help attract investment targeted at delivering commercially-viable services to industry.

“This would not only require far less public funding, but it would also help highlight specific research and development requirements.  Research and development initiatives could then be funded to optimise benefit to the UK economy, resulting in tangible socio-economic benefits including investment growth and job creation, creating a genuine return on investment both for the taxpayer and the UK economy, to the order of billions.”

[1] Recent research by intellectual property services company, GovGrant, showed that over the last 18 years, £293million of Innovate UK funding (5% of the total) was committed to 2,270 companies that have since dissolved; the research also shows that £1.05 billion invested in 2,630 companies identified as being at high risk of dissolution (18% of Innovate UK’s funding to commercial entities) and £206 million (6% of the total funding for commercial entities) remains unpaid once the project is complete:   [Published July 2022]