18 Sep 2023
by Richard Parasam

All together now: Delivering the national quantum strategy

Guest blog from Richard Parasram, Head of Delivery at the Office for Quantum. Part of techUK's #SuperchargeUKTech Week 2023

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At a recent quantum event, a world-leading physicist picked their phone up from the table and said they didn’t know how almost any of it worked. They explained that didn’t stop them taking, and creating, huge value from the technology.

Delivering the UK’s goal of having a world-leading quantum-enabled economy in the next decade will of course mean maturing this emergent technology. It will also mean expanding the understanding that we can all have a role to play, and benefit to derive, from quantum improving public outcomes, from ambulances to net zero.

Firm foundations

The UK has a long history of excellence in quantum, reflecting contributions made by researchers, firms and industrial bodies such as techUK. In March this year the Government published the 10-year National Quantum Strategy, supported by a £2.5bn commitment from the Chancellor. This signalled the UK’s exciting new intent for quantum, but it would be a mistake to say we’re now ‘moving into the delivery phase’ – the National Quantum Technologies Programme has been doing great work for the last 10 years.

Since 2014, the Programme’s £1bn investment in quantum means the UK has world-leading strengths. For example, Government has invested £214m in Quantum hubs – centres of excellence bringing together academic and industrial capability across the country focusing on Communications (based at the University of York), Sensors and Timing (University of Birmingham), Imaging (University of Glasgow) and Computing (University of Oxford). This research excellence has been catalysed with £174m Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund support for 140 quantum organisations, leveraging more than twice this amount in private investment.

This support has created a thriving and mutually beneficial ecosystem. We rank third in the world for the impact of our quantum research. We have world-class infrastructure, for example the National Quantum Computing Centre and the Quantum Metrology Institute based at the National Physical Laboratory. Crucially, this is leading to commercial development, essential to developing a sustainable ecosystem. Between 2012 and 2022, the UK ranked second in the world for attracting private equity investment behind only the US. We have hundreds of brilliant start-ups spread across the quantum technologies – from computing to timing to sensing.

Challenging times

Even as opportunities compound, the next phase of development brings challenges. Macro uncertainty means raising private investment is increasingly difficult in many cases, and competition for talent is hotting up, with other nations following the UK’s lead and launching their own funded strategies. We must also caution against overhyping capabilities for what will remain emergent technologies for many years. There remains a perceived high barrier to entry for this fiendishly capricious technology, and we know there will be unintended consequences of advances, some of which will need innovative regulation. How will we accelerate commercial progress for such a complex technology in a competitive and uncertain environment?

Everyone’s welcome

We all have a role to play supporting the Government’s plan for quantum, and we will all share the huge public benefits. The recent strategy didn’t just commit to support business commercialise technologies – we’re also building quantum science and engineering skills, driving adoption for social benefit and regulating to promote innovation. Such an ambitious scope will demand the very best execution.

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology is therefore launching the Office for Quantum to stimulate and accelerate the UK’s quantum ecosystem. We are bringing together all the ingredients needed to develop a world-leading quantum economy.

  1. All talents

We are building on our world-class research skills, which will be the bedrock of quantum development, but not stopping there. We’ve now launched our Quantum Skills Taskforce and the forthcoming action plan will focus much more broadly than PhD and Post-Docs. We’ll also develop engineering skills and quantum apprenticeships, support industrial placements, and scour the globe to identify and attract the best talent.

Our lively ecosystem will need more than direct quantum skills. We’ll need communicators to convey the opportunities and the risks, teachers to educate tomorrow’s physicists, marketeers to showcase UK excellence at home and overseas. We’ll need product managers, procurement experts, investors, and project managers to spot opportunities, translate them into applications and keep everything on track. The Office for Quantum itself is building up its delivery arm. This team will ensure we’re tracking and driving progress toward the ambitious targets set in the strategy.

  1. All technologies

Success achieving the strategy will also need much more than just quantum technology. The formation of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology makes it easier for us to work with colleagues across the Government’s other critical technologies – Engineering Biology, Semiconductors, AI and Future Telecoms. We are working together under the Government’s Science and Technology Framework to identify and exploit areas of shared opportunity. For quantum, we’ve also launched an infrastructure review to identify key building blocks and supporting technologies and structures that researchers and industry will need to build up our ecosystem.

We are seeing brilliant development across the quantum computing ‘stack’ with improvements in hardware and software - from quantum chip breakthroughs to world-leading algorithm and application development.

Of course, quantum technologies aren’t just about computing. In many cases sensing, timing, imaging and communications have the most mature applications. UK firms are already delivering in these areas – from the first commercial trial of a quantum secured communications network in the world, a wearable brain scanner with better sensitivity and lower cost than traditional methods, or a gravity gradient sensor ‘seeing’ the invisible underground.

  1. All sectors

All of these are examples of bringing together public funding through the National Programme with private sector expertise. Continuing to work together will be vital for our success, and we’re collaborating with industry to develop three ‘missions’ which will guide the nation’s combined efforts over the next decade. The Government has already invested £70 million in short-term quantum missions to achieve key technological milestones in quantum computing and positioning, navigation & timing. We anticipate the missions will guide our leading start-up ecosystem as it matures, and have set the objective of leveraging the £2.5bn public investment for at least £1bn of private capital.

Earlier this month, the government announced 30 successful private sector-led projects that will work closely with Whitehall departments to use quantum to address challenges facing us today. This type of approach bridges the gap between early growth and market readiness. It allows demonstration of impact in real-world settings with real-world users – including Government who can be a crucial early customer for this type of technology.

We’re excited by the promise of quantum, and always keen to hear your ideas for how you can contribute. Feel free to get in touch at [email protected].

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Richard Parasam

Richard Parasam

Head of delivery, Office for Quantum