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Business secretary awards regulators £10m to drive innovation

Regulators will be given funding to drive innovation and strengthen regulations in areas such as automation, data and artificial intelligence

Business secretary Greg Clark has awarded £10m funding for a series of regulatory projects to “unlock the economic opportunities” brought by new technologies.

The money is coming from the Regulator’s Pioneer Fund, which aims to create a regulatory environment where innovative companies feel confident to invest and deploy emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. 

Fifteen projects will receive funding in the programme, including Ofcom, which will get almost £700,000 to use blockchain to improve telephone number management in the UK. 

The fund is part of the government’s plans, set out in the Industrial Strategy, to drive economic opportunities within innovation.

Commenting on the funding, Clark said the UK regulatory environment is “among the best in the world and through our modern Industrial Strategy, we are building a business environment in which Britain’s dreamers, developers and disruptors can continue to thrive”. 

He added: “These projects will further strengthen our regulatory system and ensure that it keeps pace with the innovation and technological advances needed to power our economy now and in the future.”

Other projects to receive funding include the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which is being given nearly £700,000 to support the use of AI to transform the legal services market.

Clark said the project will “seek out and accelerate ethical AI-powered business innovations that support their regulatory objectives”.

“The focus will be on growing the large underdeveloped legal services market for small businesses and consumers, where AI and automation can have a transformative impact,” he added.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will receive up to £1m to “unblock” regulatory barriers to innovations such as flying taxis.

The project will create a new advisory service, a “regulatory sandbox” to allow testing and a regulatory lab, bringing together different bodies to tackle future potential legislation and regulatory barriers to innovations.

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CAA director Tim Johnson said the organisation recognises it has an important role to play “in facilitating innovation in aviation, and in doing so continue to focus on passenger and public safety and security”.

Johnson added that support from the fund will be used to give innovators guidance and enable more safe testing of new products and services at an earlier stage than before.

Other projects to receive funding include the Information Commissioner’s Office, which will create a regulators’ business privacy innovation hub, working with other regulators to support businesses with information on privacy and data protection; and the UK Space Agency’s project to create a spaceflight licensing digital gateway to ensure the licensing regime for commercial space operations keeps up with innovation in the sector.

Commenting on the funding, trade body TechUK’s head of cloud, data, analytics and AI, Sue Daley, said that as automation and AI continue to evolve and mature, “building a culture of trust, confidence and accountability in these important innovations is vital”.  

She added: “Having well-informed regulators that have the capability and capacity to understand and keep pace with how these technologies are developing and being used across industries is key to building that trust.”

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