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Autumn Budget 2018: Guarantees sought over future funding of national quantum computing programme

The chair of the Science and Tech Committee has written to the chancellor Philip Hammond to demand assurances that more funding for the UK's quantum computing efforts will be forthcoming in the Autumn 2018 budget

The UK could struggle to deliver on its goal of becoming a world leader in the field of quantum computing, unless the government commits to ramping up its funding for the National Quantum Technologies Programme.

The initiative has already garnered financial commitments from the government, in the form of a five-year £270m funding pledge issued in 2014.

This sum was intended to help organisations working in the field advance and commercialise their offerings, such as computers, lasers and satellite navigation systems.   

A portion of this funding was also set aside to finance the creation of four national hubs, focused on finding out how the properties of quantum mechanics could be used in other areas of technology too.

To capitalise on the momentum generated to date by the programme, the chair of the government’s science and technology committee, Norman Lamb MP, is seeking assurances additional funding will be made available to it in the forthcoming Autumn 2018 Budget.

In a letter addressed to the chancellor Philip Hammond, Lamb said while the initial five-year funding commitment was due to end next year, there is still much work to be done to ensure quantum computing lives up to its potential from an economic and social benefit point of view.

“To sustain the momentum built up by the first phase of the programme, reinforce industry confidence in the UK’s quantum technologies sector and not to lose ground against international competitor programmes, we urge the government to provide certainty regarding the rest of the next phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme in this year’s budget,” he wrote.

The letter acknowledged elsewhere that the government had already made a further £80m available to finance the aforementioned hubs, but this fell somewhat short of how much money the programme had requested to fund the next phase of its work.

“The initial impact of quantum technologies has not diminished over the past five years; indeed, certain technologies, such as quantum computers, have made more progress than expected,” Lamb wrote.

“We note with concern, however, that the £80m you have announced for the National Quantum Technology Hubs does not match the £338m [the programme] sought in their bid for phase 2 of the National Programme.”

The publication of the letter coincided with a hearing the committee conducted on 12 September, where the success and momentum of the programme’s efforts to advance the UK’s standing in quantum computing were discussed at length.

“The hearing heard consistently that the first phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme had achieved broad success and helped put the UK in a world-leading position for quantum computing,” the letter continued.

“We therefore call upon the government to capitalise on this groundwork and provide funding commensurate with the opportunity presented by quantum technologies and [for] the next phase of the national programme.”

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