Parliamentary committee recommends new Technology and Innovation Centres be named after Alan Turing

Technology and Innovation Centres should be named after Alan Turing

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has recommended the Government's new Technology and Innovation Centres (TICs) be named after Alan Turing.

The Government has committed £200 million to the network of TICs, an elite network of research and development intensive centres.

A report by the committee has made a number of recommendations about the centres - including they be called “Turing Centres” after the founder of computer science.

“We consider that this country owes him a debt of obligation for the way in which he was treated,” the committee said in its report.

Committee chair Andrew Miller MP said Turing had played a “significant role in the creation of the modern computer”. “He was an accomplished mathematician who was highly influential in the development of computer science.

“It would be a fitting tribute to honour his contribution to the development of modern computing technology by naming the network of TICs ‘Turing Centres’,” Miller said.

Turing was a mathematician and computer scientist. He provided a formalisation of the concept of the algorithm and computation with the "Turing machine" which played a significant role in the creation of the modern computer. He is also known for his work as a cryptographer at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

In 1952, Turing was prosecuted for gross indecency after admitting a sexual relationship with a man. As an alternative to prison, Turing was given experimental chemical castration as a "treatment". He died two years later. An inquest determined it was suicide but some believe it may have been accidental. In 2009, Gordon Brown made an official public apology about the way in which Turing was treated.

The committee’s report also warned that the £200 million budget should not be spread too thinly. An initial target of six to eight centres across the UK seems to be sensible, with a view to widening the network of centres in the future, the committee said.

The sources of funding for each centre needs to be carefully balanced. TICs should follow the ‘one third, one third, one third’ model used by the equivalent centres in Germany, the Fraunhofer Institutes, which included one third public funding from government, one third competitive public-private sector funding, and one third from private sector contracts from businesses.

The Committee recommended a cap on the amount of private sector funding each TIC can access in a given year in order to promote a more creative approach to innovation.

“It is important that TICs work with businesses of all sizes. We hope that small companies get involved and that this will strengthen their financial base and increase lenders’ and financiers’ confidence in their commercial prospects,” Miller said.

There are already a number of centres across the UK working on innovation and the commercialisation of research, and the committee recommended that TICs build on these facilities and the expertise contained within them. In identifying which existing centres in the UK will become TICs, the primary objective must be the quality of the science and the economic benefit to the UK, the committee said.

The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) had already identified a list of nearly 100 centres operating in the UK for potential TICs. “We recommend that the TSB maintain a public list in the form of an online catalogue of centres that are ready and willing to work with business, in particular SMEs (small and medium enterprises), in specific technology areas,” the report said.

The possible effect of the TICs initiatives on the wider funding activities of the TSB is a concern, the committee said.

“There is an imbalance in public funding between research and innovation. It is important that the limited funds for innovation are not monopolised by the TICs. Funding for innovation must be available to those outside the new centres, as their work may be the basis of the TICs of the future,” Miller said.

The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) said it welcomed the report and the commitment to identify those existing centres in the UK that will become Technology and Innovation Centres.

CBI head of enterprise and innovation Tim Bradshaw said it would mean that existing resources are “fully mobilised, will avoid duplication, and deliver maximum benefit for the economy”.

It is important to concentrate resources and funding on a limited number of technology and innovation centres, so as not to overstretch the £200 million budget, therefore the TSB should consider the lower number of six centres, ensuring each has the critical mass to be effective, he said.

“We support the call for long-term funding for Technology and Innovation Centres and for this to come from a range of streams, but the one-third cap on funding from the private sector is too rigid. Opening up the possibility of more funding from the private sector, to constitute 25-55 per cent of the total, will drive greater innovation and growth,” Bradshaw said.

Engineering the Future, an alliance of professional engineering institutions and associated bodies, said it welcomed the £200 million funding to establish the TICs and the commitment to provide core funding over a minimum of five years for each centre.

However, £50 million per annum spread over six TICs is “modest funding and will not go very far”. It was therefore important to build on existing strengths such as Warwick Manufacturing group, Cranfield’s expertise in manufacturing or the STFC science and innovation campuses for electronics and energy, the group said.

It also said TICs should have a duty to work with SMEs even if that activity has to be disproportionately subsidised compared to work for larger companies.

There needed to be mechanisms put in place to encourage the involvement of SMEs, part of which should emphasise the development of skills within SMEs as well as technology development, Engineering the Future said.

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