46.This Chapter considers UK ARPA’s form and function, as well as its place in the UK research and innovation landscape. It begins by addressing the matter of whether UK ARPA should have a ‘client’. It then considers what UK ARPA should do, i.e. what it should focus on, and how it should do it, i.e. how it should operate, with particular attention paid to the role of its director. The final part of the Chapter considers UK ARPA’s place in the UK research and innovation system.
47.The evidence was clear that UK ARPA’s success would in part depend on whether it can translate and scale its research outputs and innovations. Professor Mazzucato argued that the agency should “aim to leverage procurement and demand-side policies to “pull” technologies and innovation”. In the case of US DARPA, the Department of Defense—the military—serves as an end-customer. Professor Mazzucato acknowledged this: “the UK does not have a vast defence sector to perform this role as in the US”. As such, she suggested that the UK should “look to where past policies such as ‘Contracts for Difference’ in offshore wind, for example, have shaped demand”.
48.Whatever UK ARPA focuses on (some potential areas are outlined at paragraphs 65–68), several evidence submissions emphasised the importance of effective engagement with commercial partners. Professor Richard Jones argued that although UK ARPA “should not have a core commercialisation goal or targets, since this would distract from its core strategic missions”, it should seek to engage with “the commercial sector, including small and medium sized companies as well as the larger, research and development focused organisations”. This reflects oral evidence which argued that, in the absence of a dedicated customer (like the Department of Defense for DARPA), the UK should—according to former DARPA director and Wellcome Leap CEO Dr Regina Dugan—focus on “commercial and industrial activities that can create these transitions and pull-throughs”.
49.Similarly, CaSE (the Campaign for Science and Engineering) stressed the importance of a “clearly identified market for the research born from projects in order to pull the technology or innovation through to the market”. Adding that: “[i]t is hard to imagine a positive outcome for a new funding agency in the UK without a comprehensive public procurement strategy developed alongside”. Professor Sir Mark Walport agreed. He argued that, to be effective, UK ARPA “needs an environment where the products of innovation are sought, procured” and that “there needs to be a long time horizon for doing it”—this is because “[t]he market tends to be quite risk-averse”. Lord Johnson made similar comments, stressing the need for UK ARPA to be “different from the nearer-to-market innovation support provided by Innovate UK”. BEIS’s written evidence did not provide specific information regarding UK ARPA’s strategy for commercial engagement. It only stated that “the role of any specific ‘customer’ in providing pull-through for technologies […] need[s] to be tailored to the UK’s research and innovation landscape”.
50.Questions about UK ARPA’s remit, organisation and governance would be made much more straightforward if the agency was established to serve a clear ‘client’—most likely a Government department, as is the case with US DARPA, which serves the Department of Defense. Potential candidates could include the Department of Health and Social Care (for a life sciences-focussed agency), the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (for a Clean Energy/Net Zero mission) or the Ministry of Defence.
51.Written and oral evidence submitted to this inquiry stressed the need for the new agency to have a clearly defined purpose. As put by the University of Manchester:
[C]larity over its [UK ARPA’s] aims, core activities and management are essential if it is succeed. There is a risk that ARPA-like funding is seen to serve many different purposes by different players so clarity of purpose and mission is absolutely essential.
The former Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Lord Johnson, similarly argued that the Government must “establish a clear purpose for [UK ARPA] that is distinct from what UKRI is already doing or able to do”. Failure to do so may result in researchers applying for different pots of public money with identical proposals, running the risk of duplication of efforts.
52.Professor Richard Jones, Chair in Materials Physics and Innovation Policy at the University of Manchester, agreed, suggesting that UK ARPA should have “a strong and enduring clarity of purpose”. Invoking the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), he argued that:
Part of [US D]ARPA’s success is complete clarity on both its fundamental purpose and who it is there to serve. Its purpose was, and is, to ensure the technological superiority of the US armed forces.
Professor Jones went on to say that, although the benefits of DARPA’s innovations have spread beyond the military, i.e. to wider industry, the whole economy, and members of the public, it had—as put by its Deputy Director Dr Peter Highnam—“always had a very clear mission”, which was “to avoid and impose technological surprise” (prompted by the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, in 1957).
53.Dr Highnam extolled the virtues of DARPA’s singular focus, arguing that: “to have national security as the mission helps; it frames everything”. The Royal Society and Cardiff University agreed, with the latter stating that the new agency should focus on “a small number of missions supporting a clear aim”.
54.The importance of having a clear purpose was articulated by Dr Regina Dugan, CEO of Wellcome Leap—a recently established £250 million research funding agency backed by the Wellcome Trust—and a former DARPA director (from 2009–12), who argued in oral evidence that UK ARPA’s purpose should take account of where the UK has a “right to win”, i.e. where there is an existing “robust ecosystem”, drawing on the UK’s “good tradition in basic science” and its “commercial and industrial activities that can create transitions and pull-throughs”. This is broadly aligned with statements made in the July 2020 UK Research and Development Roadmap: “[t]his new research body [UK ARPA] will target areas where the UK can gain competitive advantage and lead the world in the creation of new technologies”.
55.The need to define UK ARPA’s purpose was clearly articulated by Professor Sir Mark Walport and Lord Johnson. Both lamented the lack of clarity surrounding it, with Sir Mark stating that:
I found the discussion about ARPA rather curious because I have always been taught that form should follow function, yet we are having a discussion about a form—ARPA—without actually being clear on what its function is, which is critical.
This reflected the National Audit Office’s evidence, which noted that arms-length bodies require “[c]larity of purpose and an appropriate form a structure to reflect that purpose.” Giving evidence to us in October 2020, Lord Johnson referenced the fact that little more information had been provided on UK ARPA since its original announcement in the 2019 Queen’s Speech in October:
We are now well over a year on but are still having some fairly high-level discussions about its exact purpose. That is important […] we seriously need something that resembles a Green Paper or a White Paper from Government, setting out clearly the purpose of a UK ARPA.
56.Proposals for UK ARPA—outlined in the written evidence submitted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)—only gave an indication of its purpose, putting a lot of emphasis on plans to support “breakthrough technology” over “long time horizons” and “ambitious research”. Giving oral evidence, the Science Minister Amanda Solloway MP reiterated this stating that UK ARPA would “explicitly support ambitious, long-term science that cuts bureaucracy.
58.The evidence submitted to our inquiry generally agreed that the new agency should be driven by ‘missions’ or ‘challenges’. Professor Mariana Mazzucato, Chair in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London, argued that UK ARPA should take a “challenge-led approach to innovation policy and industrial strategy”, adding that it should start by “picking the problem” it wants to solve, rather than “specifying the technology or solution” first. Professor Richard Jones agreed. If UK ARPA wanted the same “longevity and political staying power” as US DARPA, he argued that its purpose must be “closely coupled to the strategic goals of the nation”. Indeed, the University of Manchester’s submission to this inquiry highlighted the fact that US DARPA “supports strategic research” as one of its “important” features; it focused on:
research that addresses a specific problem or class of problems (including defined ‘missions’), developing knowledge, insights, methods or technologies that may underpin innovative solutions.
The emphasis placed on a ‘mission-based’ approach is analogous to the comments from Professor Mazzucato outlined above and reflects written evidence submitted by Universities Scotland, Cardiff University, the University of Oxford, and the Royal Society, which variously recommended that UK ARPA should focus on challenges or ‘missions’ driven by societal and technological need with transformative potential. Former Science Minister Lord Johnson agreed that UK ARPA should have a mission-based focus, prioritising the identification of: “a technology that we know we are going to need but does not exist today, and developing the research that will enable us to create those applications in future”.
59.Science Minister Amanda Solloway MP appeared to endorse this approach and invoked some of US DARPA’s most significant discoveries, e.g. ‘ARPANET’ (a foundation of the Internet), she stated: “[w]hen we think about ARPA, and when we think about what we are aiming to achieve, we probably do not know what it is, because it might not exist yet”. In addition to this, proposals for UK ARPA—outlined in written evidence submitted by BEIS—suggested the agency would prioritise strategic, goal-oriented research with UK ARPA tackling: “ambitious technical challenges for a clear purpose, at a scale where succeeding produces transformational change in the economy and wider society”.
60.UK ARPA can play an important role in the research and innovation system by pursuing goal-oriented research, driven by societal need, with the potential to produce lasting, transformational changes. UK ARPA should focus on ‘mission-based’ or ‘challenge-led’ research’, which has the potential to make transformative changes with implications for the economy and wider society.
61.There was agreement in the written and oral evidence that in order to effectively pursue strategic, goal-oriented research with transformative potential, research projects must be carried out over the long-term and embrace risk. Giving oral evidence, US DARPA’s Deputy Director, Dr Peter Highnam, its former director Dr Regina Dugan (now CEO of Wellcome Leap), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) lecturer William Bonvillian, cautioned that transformational change can take a long time—a decade or more—and requires a risk-tolerant approach. In line with this, the University of Oxford’s written evidence argued that:
ARPA offers the opportunity to undertake long-term, larger-scale, risky and ambitious projects with the potential to be ‘game-changing’ in a broadly defined area, along with increased flexibility, and a tolerance of the necessary high failure rate that goes with this approach.
Professor Mazzucato agreed.
62.The University of Manchester argued that a long-term outlook was as necessary as its appetite for risk:
As important as ARPA’s approach to risk is that its funding is long-term. The funding for UK ARPA should also be of longer duration to allow radical ideas the time to reach a level of maturity without being stifled by premature scepticism.
Cardiff University made similar recommendations. It advocated “long-termism”, i.e. “10–15 year programmes”, arguing that the agency’s focus should be on “longer-term programmes rather than projects”, the rationale being that: “[l]onger horizons are also conducive to the kind of transformative breakthroughs the agency is looking to support”. Giving oral evidence to this inquiry, former Science Minister Lord Johnson agreed with this timescale, suggesting that UK ARPA should “identify a couple of technologies that we know we are going to need as a society in 10 or 15 years’ time”. Indeed, several submissions specifically recommended a 10–15 year timescale.
63.The written evidence submitted by BEIS aligned with the evidence outlined in paragraphs 61 and 62. It explicitly recognised the need to embrace risk, noting that the opportunities UK ARPA will pursue will “bring risks of failure–and some programmes will fail”. Further, the submission repeatedly emphasised the Government’s aim for UK ARPA to pursue “long-term research and innovation” projects. In addition, referencing the March 2020 Budget, the BEIS evidence stated that £800 million of funding would “support the first years of UK ARPA’s operation”. It has been reported that this funding will be guaranteed over five years. The longer-term future of UK ARPA is less certain, with the BEIS written evidence stating that: “[f]uture funding decisions can then be made in light of how effectively ARPA has embedded itself in the UK research landscape, and any initial successes from the research projects it has supported”. It is therefore unclear if UK ARPA will be able to guarantee funding to research programmes over the 10–15 year timelines that were recommended by the evidence.
64.It is clear that the new funding agency should embrace risk—and be prepared for some of its projects to fail. Further, this should be combined with a long-term outlook, with research programmes spanning 10–15 years. Currently, it appears that funding is only guaranteed for the agency’s first five years, which could limit its scope for making truly transformational breakthroughs. If the Government wants UK ARPA to pursue research programmes with the potential to have transformational effects on society—and its proposals suggest that it does—UK ARPA must, firstly, fund research that would be considered too risky by the existing research and innovation system and be prepared for some programmes to fail. Secondly, the Government must accept that these projects will take a long time, potentially 10–15 years, to ‘bear fruit’. The Government must meet this ambition with long-term funding for the agency and the programmes it will fund.
65.Former DARPA director and current CEO of Wellcome Leap, Dr Regina Dugan, recommended that UK ARPA’s focus should be shaped by the UK’s relative strengths, highlighting the presence of the NHS and the potential for “fluid transition pathways to breakthroughs in health across your health system”. The CBI made similar comments:
The Department of Health seems especially well suited to act as the key driver for the new agency and serve as a buyer for future commercialisation. As one of the highest sources of government expenditure as a percentage of GDP in the UK, public health is undoubtedly an area that would benefit from greater innovation.
Referencing the launch of the Sputnik satellite—widely credited as the impetus for US DARPA—Dr Dugan argued that the coronavirus pandemic “might inspire what we consider to be a health age”. Indeed, when asked what UK ARPA should focus on, Professor Richard Jones commented that “[t]here are huge challenges in healthcare”. Written evidence from Universities Scotland and Cardiff University also recognised the potential contribution that UK ARPA could make to healthcare generally and post-pandemic recovery specifically.
66.UKRI’s former CEO Professor Sir Mark Walport argued that understanding the physiology of human cognition is the greatest scientific challenge that faces us”. He continued:
In order to solve that problem, you need to solve a whole series of intermediate problems, such as developing artificial general intelligence, developing an autonomous transport system for a big city, creating a digital plan for the UK, greening the planet—how one could improve photosynthesis, improve food and capture CO2 from the air. Material sciences offer huge possibilities.
He suggested that “any one” of those challenges “could absorb an ARPA of the size of what is proposed”.
67.Professor Mariana Mazzucato argued that the new funding agency should look to the 2017 Industrial Strategy’s four ‘Grand Challenges’ (outlined at paragraph 11). Several other submissions agreed that UK ARPA should take inspiration from the Grand Challenges. Northumbria University, however, disagreed; it argued that UK ARPA’s focus “should be independent of the Government of the day”.
68.A number of written evidence submissions—as well as oral evidence from Professor Jones—singled-out the Government’s target of achieving ‘Net Zero’ by 2050 as a potential suitable focus. Professor Mazzucato also singled-out climate change, arguing that it represented the right type of “very broad challenge” that would suit a UK ARPA. In addition, the University of Oxford, the Royal Society and Professor Jones recommended a focus on sovereign capability issues, i.e. cyber security and defence, and threats from hostile state and non-state actors.
69.The evidence was divided on how UK ARPA’s focus should be determined. Professor Richard Jones argued that the organisation should not choose its own remit. Instead, it should be the result of “some long thinking by Government”, but also that it “should be a wider discussion with many people feeding into it”. Others, however, including for example Northumbria University, argued that UK ARPA’s focus was not for the Government to decide. Indeed, if the Government did decide the agency’s focus, there was a risk—they argued—that it could contravene the Haldane principle, i.e. the principle that decisions on individual research proposals are best taken following an evaluation of the quality and likely impact of the proposals e.g. a peer review process. However, the John Innes Centre argued that, with respect to UK ARPA, “the Haldane principle is irrelevant” and that “Ministers should prioritise the initial strategic foci of the agency”.
70.The Science Minister, Amanda Solloway MP, told us that UK ARPA’s direction would be decided by scientists—not politicians. She stated that “it is so important that we have an expert scientist leading ARPA” and, regarding its focus, that “[i]t will be about the scientists defining that”. Further, she argued that it was difficult to define UK ARPA’s focus because: “when we think about what we are aiming to achieve, we probably do not know what it is, because it might not exist yet”. However, former DARPA director and current Wellcome Leap CEO Dr Dugan stressed the importance of having a clear concept and purpose for UK ARPA before appointing its director. She explained that the “clarity of thought” shown by the Wellcome Trust was “an important part” of why she accepted the offer to become Wellcome Leap’s first CEO. She went on to say that, once the initial focus was decided, it could develop and evolve with its appointed director:
You want it to have a certain area of focus, you want there to be clarity about the mission of the organisation, which is necessary for getting the right talent, and that talent will help you further shape the strategy.
71.The majority of the evidence we received argued that UK ARPA’s proposed budget of £800 million over five years would restrict its focus to—as put by former Science Minister Lord Johnson—“a very distinct single or dual mission”. Former UKRI CEO Sir Mark Walport and MIT lecturer William Bonvillian agreed. Similar points were made by several written evidence submissions, which warned against UK ARPA’s funding being spread too thinly, as this would likely result in it failing to achieve anything.
72.It is clear that UK ARPA’s proposed budget limits it to pursuing one or two central missions—any more than this would risk spreading its budget too thin, thus undermining its effectiveness. Given the size of UK ARPA’s proposed budget we recommend that the new agency focuses on no more than two strategically important missions. This will increase the agency’s chances of delivering on its stated aims of making breakthroughs with transformative implications for the economy and wider society.
73.The Government must think carefully about what the new agency’s focus might be before recruiting a director. It should consider the potential areas of focus recommended in the written and oral evidence submitted to this inquiry. It could also consider aligning UK ARPA’s focus with other identified priorities and reviews, for example the Industrial Strategy, Net Zero or the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. Clarity in this regard will ensure that the agency is led by the best person possible who can, in turn, help to refine and shape the organisation’s focus.
75.Written and oral evidence repeatedly referenced US DARPA’s organisational structure, arguing that UK ARPA should seek to replicate it. For example, Professor Mariana Mazzucato highlighted DARPA’s “flat internal structure” as one of its “key characteristics”. Former US DARPA director Dr Regina Dugan elaborated on the benefits of its flat structure:
Here you have an organisation that moves extremely fast, and needs to. It is very flat. It takes on the strategic intent, the personality and the style of the individuals inside the organisation. That is a necessary attribute of that kind of speed and agility, that kind of independence.
Thus, DARPA’s flat, non-hierarchical structure facilitated quick, unilateral decision-making, they argued. Dr Dugan partly attributed this to its lean structure:
DARPA is a $3.5 billion-a-year agency with about 100 programme managers but about 250 full-time staff. That is about $15 million per FTE. That is extremely lean. There is no ability to have a lot of process and bureaucracy in that. There must be speed, it must be highly agile, and it must operate independently.
76.In line with this, evidence from BEIS and the Science Minister Amanda Solloway MP emphasised the need for UK ARPA to be agile with as limited bureaucracy as possible. Further, the evidence from BEIS suggested UK ARPA would be lean: “[t]he organisation itself will be small, with a limited number of specialised directors and programme managers”. However, it did not specify whether the new agency would have a flat, non-hierarchical structure, as recommended by the evidence. Correspondence from Minister Solloway stated that the Government would “create a structure that enables the organisation to operate”, but did not elaborate on how it would do this—or what it would look like.
77.US DARPA and its ‘clones’ have shown the advantages of having a small, lean organisation with limited bureaucracy. Nevertheless, we think that the ultimate form and structure of the organisation should be shaped by and evolve with its appointed director.
78.As noted at paragraph 75, US DARPA’s operational independence was also considered key. Professor Mazzucato pointed out that DARPA is “flexible and independent from branches of Government”. University College London’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose argued that “[D]ARPA was successful because it was given the space within the American bureaucracy to take risks and to make big bets on technologies. Former DARPA Director Dr Dugan agreed. If UK ARPA wanted to make potentially transformative breakthroughs—and the BEIS evidence explicitly stated that it did—she argued that it would be important to recognise that:
in their earliest phases those breakthroughs or the activities associated with creating those breakthroughs can feel quite controversial. Having the independence to make those decisions separate from political influence is an important attribute. The agency must operate independently for its decisions on individual programmes.
79.Former UKRI CEO Professor Sir Mark Walport argued that, in order for UK ARPA to effectively tackle “ambitious technical challenges”, “the critical question” was whether it would “have the freedom to take the risks over the timescales that will enable these challenges to be tackled”:
It will take the paymasters—Government and the Treasury—to make the body truly arm’s length in a way that it can tackle the challenges over the timescales that are necessary and not micromanage.
These comments underlined a point made by the University of Manchester, who argued that UK ARPA:
needs to be given sufficient time (at least 10 years) to bed in and prove its effectiveness. Constant chopping and changing of organisational structures, remits and priorities will not work, however well intentioned.
Other evidence submissions made similar points. Former Science Minister Lord Johnson stated that there were “mechanisms that you could try to include” to protect against “ministerial interests du jour chopping and changing and leading to a certain short-termism in how projects are identified”.
80.Correspondence from Minister Solloway explicitly recognised that “[f]or this new UK funding agency to be successful it must have independence, over both operational and strategic matters”. Evidence from the National Audit Office however highlighted that “getting the balance between independence and control right” was “[o]ne of the biggest challenges in setting up any new public body”. Its evidence stated that:
Getting the best from arm’s-length bodies means balancing assurance and control with an appropriate degree of independence consistent with an arm’s-length body’s function, for example freedom to form impartial judgements and apply technical or operational expertise. This is, in itself, not an easy balance to strike.
Further, it warned that “if independence reduces too far, the benefits which arm’s-length bodies are intended to bring might be restricted, and the very point of having an arm’s-length body compromised”.
81.We welcome the Government’s commitment to give UK ARPA independence over both operational and strategic matters. With that said, there will still be a need for appropriate Government oversight of the organisation’s operations—given that £800 million of public money has been allocated to it—but UK ARPA will require bespoke Government scrutiny arrangements to operate effectively. The Government should set out, drawing on precedents such as scrutiny of the Security Services by the Intelligence and Security Committee, how this oversight will work in practice.
82.There was agreement in the evidence that getting UK ARPA’s culture right would be central to its success, and that getting it right “at the outset is absolutely critical”, according to MIT lecturer William Bonvillian. The University of Oxford stated that the ‘right’ culture for UK ARPA was “a research environment in which innovation is incentivized and rewarded”. The evidence was clear that UK ARPA’s leadership would be crucial to establishing the right culture. Witnesses with first-hand experience of US DARPA (i.e. Dr Peter Highnam, Dr Regina Dugan and Mr William Bonvillian) recommended that UK ARPA’s director should ideally be someone with experience of US DARPA itself. Dr Highnam said: “[i]f the goal is to create something that is close to DARPA, I do not see another way of doing it, except having people there who have been through it and believe in it”. The Government has stated that UK ARPA would be “broadly modelled” on US DARPA. Current UKRI CEO Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser suggested that UK ARPA debates were overly focused on DARPA and that more focus should be on its potential role as a funder of experimental research.
83.The Government has not stated who will lead UK ARPA. Minister Solloway made clear to us that she wants to appoint an “expert scientist” to lead it. Correspondence from the Minister stated that “an exceptional leader” would be appointed “in due course”. There was no mention, however, of whether it would be someone with DARPA experience.
84.The pool of potential candidates for director should not necessarily be restricted to expert scientists. The Government should be open minded on who the new agency’s director might be, should not disregard anyone at this early stage, and should be open to appointing an individual with a bold vision, creativity and drive.
85.Whoever leads UK ARPA, the evidence was clear that they should play an important role in the recruitment of its personnel. For example, Professor Richard Jones argued that “the major job of the director will be to recruit the programme leaders”. University College London’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose told us that UK ARPA’s programme leaders—or managers—should, like the organisation itself, be given “independence of decision-making and program management”. Professor Jones agreed. He recognised that UK ARPA’s programmes should be set up with “considerable rigour and scrutiny” but once established: “the programme leaders should have very considerable discretion in assigning and redirecting the funding without further bureaucratic overheads”. The current and former UKRI CEOs—Dame Ottoline Leyser and Sir Mark Walport—took the same view. They both stressed the importance of UK ARPA being staffed by “visionary researchers” given the freedom they need to pursue their vision, with the former likening its environment to a ‘skunkworks’ (i.e. an organisation with a high degree of autonomy and limited bureaucracy). BEIS’s evidence explicitly recognised the need for UK ARPA to by staffed by “programme managers who are given significant freedoms to manage its R&D activities”. This was consistent with the views expressed in the vast majority of written evidence.
86.UK ARPA should have a distinct and flexible organisational structure. The Government should seek to create an environment characterised by a high degree of autonomy and limited bureaucracy. The Government should explain how it intends to establish and foster this culture in the new agency.
87.It is clear that the agency’s director will play a crucial role in defining its culture. The new director must therefore be committed to creating a culture that empowers and emboldens UK ARPA’s employees. Depending on how closely the Government wants UK ARPA to replicate US DARPA, it should consider appointing a director with first-hand experience, or at least a good understanding, of DARPA in the US.
88.The evidence we received was clear that UK ARPA’s programme managers must be of the highest calibre. Sir Mark argued that recruiting the “very best” constituted the “real challenge for setting up an ARPA-like organisation”. Professor Mazzucato argued that US DARPA did this successfully by “making it an honour for scientists to work towards solving grand challenges”. She argued that “[t]his must be a consideration for UK ARPA”. Professor Jones acknowledged that “it will be a hard job to find them” because: “[t]hey will be enormously high-calibre people, and probably enormously successful in academia or industry, or preferably both.” Former DARPA director Dr Regina Dugan outlined the scale of the challenge:
They very often are entrepreneurial in their ambitions. They are impact oriented […] They are very much focused on the advancement of the science and engineering but they have CEO-like qualities […] they are the best in class scientists, engineers and CEOs.
In addition, several submissions suggested that UK ARPA personnel should be ‘disruptors’ with ideas “which are born not only from institutions which have stood for centuries”.
89.MIT lecturer William Bonvillian argued that the “special kinds of hiring authority” given to US DARPA were essential for getting the best people. The consensus was that UK ARPA would require a similar level of privilege, as Sir Mark Walport argued:
ARPA/DARPA recruited many people from the private sector, and in order to do that they needed two things. First, they needed the freedom to operate. Secondly, they needed a competitive salary.
90.Former Science Minister, Lord Johnson, made a similar point, stating that “[t]he qualities required are going to be hard to secure, certainly at the normal rates of pay that we are used to.” The Government recognised in evidence the need for the agency’s staff to be high-calibre and well-paid: BEIS’s Deputy Director for UKRI Sponsorship and Advanced Research Projects Agency Sarah Hodgetts told us that: “We recognise that remuneration will be key, because attracting the calibre of person the Minister has just described is likely to be outside the normal pay restrictions”.
91.Government proposals do not specify how many programme managers UK ARPA would employ, though BEIS’s evidence stated it would be a “limited number”. MIT lecturer William Bonvillian pointed to the DARPA ‘clone’ Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, or ARPA-E, which had a budget “roughly twice the size” of what has been proposed for UK ARPA and employed “about 12 programme managers”. He suggested UK ARPA should seek to replicate this. Written evidence largely agreed with this.
92.UK ARPA’s director should play a key role in the recruitment of its personnel. Programme managers should be ambitious ‘disruptors’, from a range of backgrounds, who are impact oriented, focused on the advancement of science and have CEO-like qualities. Attracting these people will require sufficient remuneration. The Government should explain how UK ARPA’s programme managers can be appointed outside normal pay restrictions in order to ensure that they are sufficiently remunerated.
93.The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy told us that the new UK research funding agency would be: “an addition to the funding landscape that will complement existing funding arrangements provided by UKRI and others”. This indicated that UK ARPA might not sit inside the UKRI ‘umbrella’. However, the November 2020 Spending Review stated that the first £50 million of the £800 million earmarked for “high risk, high-payoff” research would be included in the £350 million allocated to UKRI for 2021–22 and there was no mention of a new agency. This suggested that UK ARPA might be created inside UKRI. Former Science Minister, Lord Johnson, strongly argued for creating UK ARPA within UKRI: “I do not see any reason why UKRI, as a young organisation, could not quite easily incubate an ARPA-like body in a way that enabled it to do high-risk, high-reward, use-inspired research”. Former UKRI CEO, Professor Sir Mark Walport, took a similar view, arguing that UKRI would be “perfectly capable of running APRA-like programmes”. Further, Professor Richard Jones argued that there was “no compelling reason why the UK ARPA shouldn’t be set up within UKRI”. Bournemouth University and Northumbria University also agreed, while Loughborough University gave qualified support to this argument.
94.However, the majority of the evidence which offered a view on this issue agreed that UK ARPA should sit outside UKRI. For example, CaSE stated that “there is no obvious place for [UK ARPA] to ‘slot in’ to UKRI”. Former Minister of State for Universities and Science Lord Willetts has advocated keeping UK ARPA and UKRI as “distinct identities”. The current CEO and Chair of UKRI took a similar view: Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser has argued that there is a “strong argument for an independent organisation”, while Sir John Kingman stated that he was “sympathetic” to idea that UK ARPA should sit “outside the UKRI structure”.
95.Arguments in favour of situating the new agency inside UKRI centred on speed. For example, former Science Minister Lord Johnson said it would be “much less disruptive than legislating to create a new standalone quango”, adding that it “could make use of the general functions and legislative arrangements that any new body requires but that are already in place for UKRI”, allowing it to “become rapidly operational and begin disbursing money”. Professor Richard Jones, as well as the University of Edinburgh and Professor Jim Watson and Anna Watson, made the same argument. Further, Bournemouth University argued that UK ARPA would be “best placed within UKRI” as this would help facilitate collaboration and cross-fertilisation across projects with other parts of the research system. This would reduce the risk of the same application being submitted to several Government agencies. Northumbria University took a similar view.
96.We heard that creating UK ARPA outside of the UKRI ‘umbrella’ would require the use of primary legislation and could take more than a year to establish. Situating it inside UKRI, however, would only require secondary legislation and could take around three months, according to Lord Johnson. He argued that because more than a year had passed since proposals for the agency were announced (in the October 2019 Queen’s Speech)—without significant progress being made—it was incumbent on the Government to “let UKRI use the powers it has to get this thing going quickly”. He recommended that “for the initial period of its existence, it should be incubated in UKRI”, adding that if “it is found that it needs a greater degree of autonomy” it could be “spun out as a standalone organisation”.
97.As Lord Johnson alluded to, the principal argument for creating a new independent agency was to ensure that UK ARPA had sufficient freedom to operate which—as outlined earlier in paragraphs 78–80—was considered essential for it to be effective. We note National Audit Office guidance on establishing new public bodies which states that there should be “a clear advantage in establishing a new organisation”. In line with this, the University of Edinburgh argued that a new independent agency would have a “blank sheet” allowing it to be “innovative in approach, culture and thinking”. The University of Birmingham agreed, stating that UK ARPA programmes would need “different structures and mechanisms for selection management and reporting”. Similarly, CaSE, Fraunhofer UK Research Ltd and Professor Jim Watson and Anna Watson raised concerns about UK ARPA’s independence and ability to take risks if it were embedded in the UKRI framework. The current UKRI CEO and Chair, Dame Ottoline Leyser and Sir John Kingman both agreed. Dame Ottoline stated that “[h]aving some money that is protected to do only things that are novel and contentious is quite a valuable part of the landscape”. While Sir John argued that creating UK ARPA outside UKRI would allow it “the freedom to operate in a more freewheeling way”. Even those who argued that the agency should sit inside UKRI acknowledged—for example as Lord Johnson did—that it would require a “far greater degree of autonomy than we are used to”.
98.Another reason given by CaSE centred on the risk of overcomplicating UKRI’s portfolio whose creation represented “an already significant shift in the UK’s research funding landscape”. Indeed, the Minister was clear that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was still “working [its] way through quite a few particular questions”, stressing the importance of listening to stakeholders’ concerns “carefully” and the need to make sure that UK ARPA was “absolutely fit for purpose”. Notably, the current UKRI CEO and Chair were clear that, wherever it was located, UK ARPA could work effectively as part of the research and innovation system. Sir John Kingman pointed out that UKRI already worked “very closely with massive funders of research who are not part of UKRI”. Dame Ottoline was similarly supportive but stressed that, if UK ARPA is situated inside UKRI, it must be given certain assurances so that it can effectively pursue ‘novel and contentious’ research:
It is absolutely crucial that it has protections in the context of its budget. It needs to be able to make long-term very stable investments. It needs to work very freely and fluidly. If those protections can be delivered inside UKRI, so that it is not being asked endlessly whether something is novel or contentious, it could operate entirely effectively inside UKRI. It could also operate entirely effectively outside UKRI.
99.We recognise that there could be advantages to establishing the new UK research funding agency inside UKRI: it would be quicker; facilitate its communication and collaboration with the existing research and innovation system; and reduce the risk of threatening the coherence of funding and research brought by UKRI. However, we note concerns that UK ARPA might not be able to operate effectively and with sufficient freedom if it was situated inside UKRI’s framework, for example, being unable to pursue ‘novel and contentious’ activities without case-by-case Ministerial approval. On balance, we agree with these concerns. To be effective, the new UK research funding agency must be able to operate independently and pursue ‘novel and contentious’ research without case-by-case Ministerial approval. If this is not possible within UKRI then there is merit in the Government establishing UK ARPA as a separate entity. Therefore, the Government must clarify whether it intends to establish UK ARPA as a separate body or an agency within UKRI. In doing so, it should be clear about whether this will require primary or secondary legislation and the likely timescales involved.
100.Former Science Ministers Lord Johnson and Lord Willetts have expressed concerns that UK ARPA will overlap with Innovate UK and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund in particular. Lord Willetts has described how UK ARPA will relate to Innovate UK as a “tricky organisational issue” given that the latter has functioned as a means of “strategic horizon scanning on new technologies”, which bears similarities to UK ARPA proposals. Similarly, it was pointed out that UK ARPA’s stated aims were not “a million miles away” from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). Indeed, much of the evidence argued that UK ARPA’s areas of focus should be aligned with those in the Industrial Strategy. Lord Johnson argued that the Government must think through how UK ARPA would “relate to Innovate UK” and how it would “differentiate [UK] ARPA’s role from those of the much larger missions within the ISCF in a way that is not confusing and duplicative”. Further, he recommended that the legislation used to create the new agency “must ensure” that it has: “the power–and, where appropriate, the duty–to cooperate and share information with UKRI to ensure that the two bodies work together most effectively”. Others including Professor Richard Jones, the University of Oxford and the Royal Society made similar points.
101.The vehicle used to establish UK ARPA (i.e. legislation) must allow for clear lines of communication between it, UKRI and the wider system. This could be established through a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that both parties agree to. It should ensure that UK ARPA has the power—and, where appropriate, the duty—to cooperate and share information with UKRI to ensure that the two bodies work together effectively, and vice versa. What is deemed appropriate in this context must be weighed against UK ARPA’s requirement for operational independence, which will necessitate bespoke oversight arrangements, including possibly less formal co-ordination with existing parts of the system than what is customary.
106 UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose
108 UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose
109 Soft Machines, , accessed 7 January 2021
111 Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE)
112 Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE)
115 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
116 University of Manchester
117 Policy Exchange, (January 2020), p47
118 University of Manchester ; Policy Exchange, (January 2020), p47
119 Soft Machines, , accessed 7 January 2021
120 Soft Machines, , accessed 7 January 2021
123 The Royal Society ; Cardiff University
125 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, , accessed 7 January 2021
127 National Audit Office ()
129 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
131 UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose
132 Soft Machines, , accessed 7 January 2021
133 University of Manchester
134 Universities Scotland ; Cardiff University ; University of Oxford ; The Royal Society .
137 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
141 University of Oxford
142 UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose
143 University of Manchester
144 Cardiff University
146 Northumbria University (); University of the West of Scotland (); Norwich Research Park (); WMG ().
147 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
148 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
149 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
150 Policy Exchange, (January 2020), p 23
151 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
153 The Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
156 Universities Scotland ; Cardiff University
159 UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose
160 The Royal Society ; Universities Scotland (); WMG (); The Alan Turing Institute (); University of Manchester ().
161 Northumbria University ()
162 ; The Royal Society (); The Royal Academy of Engineering (); Cardiff University ()
164 University of Oxford (); The Royal Society (); Soft Machines, (30 January 2020), accessed 7 January 2021
166 Northumbria University ()
167 Higher Education and Research Act 2017,
168 John Innes Centre ()
175 King’s College London ; Aston University (); Royal Society of Biology (); John Innes Centre (); Aerospace Technology Institute ().
179 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ;
180 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
181 , 16 October 2020
183 UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose ()
185 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
188 University of Manchester ()
189 Universities Scotland (); Institute for Development Studies (); University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute and University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk
191 , 16 October 2020
192 National Audit Office ()
193 National Audit Office ()
194 National Audit Office ()
196 University of Oxford ()
198 Prime Minister’s Office, (December 2019), p 93
201 , 16 October 2020
202 UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose ()
203 Soft Machines, (30 January 2020), accessed 7 January 2021
205 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
207 UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose ()
210 Northumbria University (). See also: Unilever (); ORCA Computing (); University of Birmingham ().
214 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
216 For examples see Universities Scotland () and Royal Society of Chemistry ()
217 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
218 HM Treasury, Spending Review 2020, , November 2020, p 79
221 Soft Machines, (30 January 2020), accessed 7 January 2021
222 Bournemouth University (); Northumbria University (); Loughborough University ().
223 For examples see: Royal Society of Biology (); University of Edinburgh (); Fraunhofer UK Research Ltd (); University of Birmingham (); Cardiff University (); Aston University ().
224 Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) ()
225 Policy Exchange, (2020), p 57
226 ScienceMag, , 13 August 2020, accessed 7 January 2021;
227 Policy Exchange, (2020), p 48
228 Soft Machines, (30 January 2020), accessed 7 January 2021; University of Edinburgh (); Professor Jim Watson and Anna Watson ().
229 Bournemouth University ()
230 Northumbria University ()
235 National Audit Office ()
236 University of Edinburgh ()
237 University of Birmingham ()
238 Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) (); Fraunhofer UK Research Ltd (); Professor Jim Watson and Anna Watson ().
241 Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) ()
245 Policy Exchange, (2020), p 54
247 See paragraph 67 and 68.
249 Policy Exchange, (2020), p 45
250 Soft Machines, (30 January 2020), accessed 7 January 2021; University of Oxford (); Royal Society ()