Industry experts predict the 4G auction could raise up to �4 billion

Campaign calls for 4G auction proceeds to be invested in technology

The proceeds of the UK’s 4G spectrum auction should be reinvested in new technologies, campaigners have urged.

Leading scientists and entrepreneurs have backed the 4Growth campaign led by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) and Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation. They include physicist Brian Cox; former Astronomer Royal and president of the Royal Society, Lord Rees; former Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Science Minister, Lord Waldegrave; British doctor and science writer, Ben Goldacre; and Nobel laureate Andre Geim.

The ‘4Growth’ campaign calls for the £4bn expected to be raised by the UK’s 4G auction to be reinvested in science, technology and innovation to drive future economic growth.

“The 4G windfall is the result of past investments in science and technology, and although there are many worthy current claims for funding, the case for reinvesting the proceeds into new technologies, science and innovation is compelling,” said Geoff Mulgan, Nesta chief executive.

“Whenever we use a smartphone, we’re standing on the shoulders of generations of innovators, from Marconi and Clerk Maxwell to Tim Berners Lee and Joe McGeehan who benefited from funding, much of it public, that was animated by commitment to the future. “How the 4G proceeds are used will test whether the UK’s horizons have shrunk, or whether we can be as ambitious today in our commitment to the future.”

The campaign sets out a number of proposals for investment to generate a renaissance in UK science and technology. It says that the UK has a great tradition of supporting Britain’s innovators that has to be re-invigorated if the UK is to compete in the future world economy.

“The perfect opportunity to help rebalance the economy has fallen into the government’s lap,” said Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. “By reinvesting this money, which came from science and technology, back into innovation, the UK could put itself firmly on the road to a high-tech future. Innovative economies – like Germany, or the US – owe their successes to a proactive government working closely with industry.

“That’s how technologies like the Internet and MP3s were born. We need to emulate that approach here, and the 4G auction gives us the opportunity to do it.”

The ‘4Growth’ campaigners say they have identified exactly how this money could be used to revolutionise the UK’s science and innovation landscape, transforming the country into a high-tech nation and delivering a stronger, more diverse economy:

• People & Skills, £750m: a 10-year fund to invest in education and research that will create more scientists, engineers, researchers and designers and, in turn, will generate around £90m a year in real terms, for example, by funding more early career researchers, facilitate the movement of researchers from industry to academia and bring the UK’s best researchers here to the UK.

• Infrastructure, £1.5bn: the UK is one of the few countries that has the expertise and ability to build world-class, cutting-edge science and technology infrastructure. The campaign says the UK should make the most of that advantage by building and exploiting knowledge infrastructure fit for the 21st Century, for example, through technology demonstrators, new research facilities and facilities for makers.

• Demand for emerging technologies, £1.25bn – the UK needs to challenge and incentivise our research and innovation base to meet the goals that are important to us; putting the UK at the heart of developing tomorrow’s technologies by funding new challenge prizes (like the Ansari ‘X’ Prize), helping small businesses come up with innovative solutions for government contracts and establishing a new Vision Fund for technological research.

• Finance, £500m – since 2008, investment in innovation by businesses has fallen sharply, creating a ‘valley of death’ between research and commercialisation. Investment in innovation can be stimulated through the extension of Smart Awards and the backing of early-stage tech businesses through co-investment funds.

In a recent Nesta survey conducted by YouGov, 40 per cent of business leaders thought the 4G auction proceeds should be spent on ‘Investment in science, technology and education’ over ‘paying back part of the national debt or cutting taxes’. 

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