The UK government has announced an update on its plans for the largest-ever R&D budget from 2022 to 2025, showing its commitment to fostering innovation and technological advancement. The comprehensive strategy for R&D funding, underpinned by significant budget allocations and tax relief reforms, underscores the UK’s ambition to remain a competitive hub for cutting-edge research. Let’s look in more detail at what this means for the future of R&D funding.
Record Budget Allocation for R&D
The UK government has confirmed its largest-ever R&D budget, totalling £39.8 billion for 2022-2025. This unprecedented level of funding, an increase of £5 billion to £20 billion per annum by 2024-2025, represents a 33% rise over the current parliament. The allocations under this budget are poised to strengthen the UK’s R&D system, with the overarching goal of elevating the country as a global leader in science and innovation.
The government’s R&D investments are strategically directed to support the UK’s Innovation Strategy, to increase total R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Key areas of focus include climate change, new technology sectors such as clean tech and AI, and levelling up opportunities across the nation. The UK Space Agency will see its budget grow to over £600 million by 2024-2025, emphasising the economic and strategic importance of the space sector.
In line with the Levelling Up White Paper, the government has committed to increasing public R&D investment outside the greater South East by at least a third, ensuring fair regional distribution and economic balance. This approach is expected to bolster confidence in business investment in R&D, leveraging private investment and fostering innovation across the country.
Reforming R&D Tax Relief
To complement direct budget allocations, the government has introduced significant reforms to R&D tax reliefs, affecting companies under the Research and Development Expenditure Credit (RDEC), the small or medium enterprises (SME) R&D relief, and those with Patent Box elections.
Extending Qualifying Expenditure
From April 2023, the scope of qualifying expenditures for R&D tax relief expanded to include the costs of datasets and cloud computing. These changes aim to incentivise R&D using digital approaches and include previously excluded areas like pure mathematics.
Refocusing on UK-Based Innovation
To maximise the benefits of R&D activities within the UK, the government is refocusing relief on domestic activity. Restrictions will apply to subcontracted work and costs of externally provided workers, with certain exemptions for specific international research needs.
Improving Compliance and Tackling Abuse
All claims for R&D reliefs must be made digitally, with detailed cost breakdowns and descriptions of the R&D projects. Pre-notification to HMRC is required, along with disclosure of any advising agents, aiming to improve compliance and prevent abuse of the system.
Future Outlook and Stakeholder Engagement
The government’s target to raise total investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 is ambitious. The R&D tax reliefs are crucial in reducing innovation costs and encouraging private-sector investment. Following extensive stakeholder consultations, reforms to the R&D tax relief system were announced, ensuring that these reliefs remain competitive and up-to-date, and effectively target taxpayer funds towards meaningful innovation.
Embracing Feedback for Enhanced Guidance
Before announcing its commitment, HMRC published draft guidance reflecting the upcoming reforms to the R&D tax reliefs, taking into account feedback from stakeholders, including industry groups, businesses, and accountancy professionals. This collaborative approach has been vital in refining the guidance, ensuring it effectively addresses the needs and concerns of those engaging in R&D activities.
A Dynamic and Robust Future for Research and Development
The future of UK R&D funding is dynamic and robust, marked by substantial government investment and strategic reforms to tax reliefs. These initiatives aren’t just financial mechanisms but represent a concerted effort to cultivate a fertile environment for innovation and technological progress in the UK.
The focus on regional development, alongside the emphasis on modernising and securing R&D tax relief systems, sets a precedent for sustainable and inclusive growth in the research and innovation sectors. As these changes unfold, businesses and stakeholders in the R&D world can expect to see a landscape ripe with opportunities, supported by a government keen on nurturing a global science and innovation superpower.
Find out more
Find out more about the recent government announcement here
Read the full policy paper ‘Research and Development Tax Relief Reform’ here