14 May 2024
by Elis Thomas

Incremental progress: The National Semiconductor Strategy needs to be bolder

Blog from Elis Thomas at techUK as part of our #UnleashInnovation campaign week 2024.

National Strategy turns one 

Next week marks one year since the UK Government announced its plan to secure the UK’s leadership in the global semiconductor industry.  

In May 2023, DSIT outlined their 20-year path to UK leadership, dedicating up to £1bn in targeted support across IP and Design, R&D, and Compound Semiconductors. This one billion figure, on the face of it, was dwarfed by the commitments of the US, EU, China and South Korea. However, the UK's goal differed from these strategies. Instead, it would seek to deliver on a selected unique selling points. 

Within these limited paradigm’s, the UK National Semiconductor Strategy committed to developing a robust domestic sector, strong National Security, and a resilient supply chain, guided with a Semiconductor Advisory Panel from industry. This approach was welcomed and was the first sign of a government plan for the industry in decades. 

But as the National Strategy turns one, can we look back and say that it has positively put the Semiconductor industry on the right path? In short- sort of. 

Why did the UK’s strategy differ from other nations? 

Semiconductor technology is more concentrated within certain companies, and internationally dependent than almost any other industry. For example, Dutch-based ASML produces 100% of the world’s Extreme Ultraviolet lithography machines, a core process in producing integrated circuits. TSMC produces around 90% of the world’s most advanced chips. Breaking free of this international supply chain with a fully self-contained Semiconductor industry within UK borders is not realistic, so a doubling down on British USP’s is reasonable. As we put it at the time, “a good start”. 

What progress has been made? 

 In January 2023, techUK posted our five-point, UK plan for Chips. This was written alongside members who design and manufacture semiconductors, consumer electronics companies and innovators in emerging technologies such as AI and Quantum. A number of these recommendations were fully or partially addressed. Partial movement can be seen in skills, with the recent investment into 65 Doctoral Training centres, or a £22m R&D boost with Knowledge and Innovation Centre funding

However, working within the financial constraints of the Strategy, the UK industry will need more than light touches. Putting the rhetoric of the strategy into action requires an ambitious, well-co-ordinated delivery. 

Whilst techUK welcomed the investment into Knowledge and Research centres, a strategic approach to developing a skills pipeline is still needed to address the growing disparity in demand. For example, we’re yet to see a gap analysis of the sector to understand which areas would yield the highest return on investment. In the short term, an immigration system that compliments UK skills by outlining shortage occupation list’s, and student talent matching partnerships would provide a fantastic boost to new design and manufacturing techniques. Furthermore, confusion regarding R&D tax credits, which were a fantastic way for SME’s to invest in innovation. R&D tax incentives could be better leveraged to support the R&D landscape, especially through supporting CapEx funding more effectively 

The UK’s Semiconductor future 

The UK’s ambition is set- to become a science and tech superpower by 2023. This will require addressing a series of multilayered challenges that have held back British innovation, like keeping global pace with R&D investment to increasing commercialisation of UK tech. The Semiconductor industry has not been immune to these challenges, and as one of DSIT’s core five technologies of tomorrow, will be a key part of the puzzle to achieving this superpower status. Electric vehicles require twice the chips as traditional cars, AI requires incredibly high compute power, efficient and widespread green energy requires innovative harnessing and storage. In other words; the UK cannot be a science and tech superpower, unless it is a Semiconductor leader.  

To be a semiconductor leader, we need to see more areas of our Plan for Chips actioned. From supporting the skills that will underpin the sector's growth, to increased financial support in areas of R&D, IP and Design. There needs to be incentive to grow in the UK, especially considering the incredible concentration of this technology within a few key regions and companies. There was a reason that our Plan for Chips listed “retaining global leadership” as its first goal. In a global race to generate semiconductor skills, funding and research, the Government must ramp up support to enable the UK industry to meet the immense demands future tech needs. 

Next steps, and how you can help 

The UK semiconductor industry was not catching lightning in a bottle, but a well earnt place of leadership through intelligent collaboration between academia, researchers and industry. Japan was once considered a powerhouse in consumer electronics, but has since lost ground to American, Korea and Chinese competitors. The UK’s current, similarly, position shouldn't be taken for granted. Leadership requires bold decisions, and there are many ways in which we are still yet to see this. The good news is, our Plan for Chips has already done the hard work, and outlined precisely what actions policymakers need to take. 

The UK is comfortably the biggest tech hub in Europe, but our leadership this century goes nowhere without Semiconductors as the bedrock. The National Strategy was a positive step in the right direction, and there has been undeniable good work in supporting the sector, but global leadership won’t be won by light touches. Decisive and unwavering commitment to the sector is needed, with a long -term strategy which goes beyond a single government. That’s why we were proud to form the Chips Coalition, a group we formed in June 2023 with Global Tech Advocates and Techworks as the industry voice to government. This industry group meets quarterly, under the united goal of providing a strong industry voice to a thriving semiconductors industry in the UK. From informing our future work, to joining exclusive briefings, the Chips Coalition is a one-stop shop for Industry and Government to set the agenda for the Semiconductor sector. 

We look forward to working with key stakeholders to continue our advocacy for Semiconductor technology, and translating the National Strategy's rhetoric to action. 

To join the Chips Coalition group, click here. 


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The UK is home to emerging technologies that have the power to revolutionise entire industries. From quantum to semiconductors; from gaming to the New Space Economy, they all have the unique opportunity to help prepare for what comes next.

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Laura Foster

Laura Foster

Head of Technology and Innovation, techUK

Elis Thomas

Elis Thomas

Programme Manager, Tech and Innovation, techUK

Rory Daniels

Rory Daniels

Programme Manager, Emerging Technologies

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Elis Thomas

Elis Thomas

Programme Manager, Tech and Innovation, techUK

Elis joined techUK in December 2023 as a Programme Manager for Tech and Innovation, focusing on AI, Semiconductors and Digital ID. 

He previously worked at an advocacy group for tech startups, with a regional focus on Wales. This involved policy research on innovation, skills and access to finance. 

Elis has a Degree in History, and a Masters in Politics and International Relations from the University of Winchester, with a focus on the digitalisation and gamification of armed conflicts. 

 

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