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UK government announces Office for Talent

The Office for Talent is part of a research and development roadmap, which includes an innovation programme to accelerate innovation in government

The UK government has announced the creation of the Office for Talent and a set of initiatives aimed at boosting skills to support economic recovery, as well as a £300m investment package to upgrade scientific infrastructure.

The announcement by business secretary Alok Sharma on 1 July 2020 is part of a research and development (R&D) roadmap, which is under a broader plan to help the UK economy regroup after the impact from the Covid-19 outbreak.

It follows the government’s pledge to increase R&D investment to £22bn a year by 2024-25, and it aims to drive collaboration between the public and private sectors and research organisations to ensure funding is available for initiatives that drive economic and societal benefits.

According to the government, a key pillar of the strategy is attracting, retaining and developing talent, and the Office for Talent has been set up to achieve those goals. Based in No.10, the team will start work immediately, with delivery teams based across government departments, and will review the effectiveness of the current rules.

“The UK has a strong history of turning new ideas into revolutionary technologies – from penicillin to graphene and the World Wide Web. Our vision builds on these incredible successes to cement Britain’s reputation as a global science superpower,” Sharma said.

“The R&D Roadmap sets out our plan to attract global talent, cut unnecessary red tape and ensure our best minds get the support they need to solve the biggest challenges of our time,” he added.

According to the government, Office for Talent will also seek to “ensure excellent customer service across the immigration system”, and help international professionals coming to the UK “better understand the opportunities on offer and break down any barriers they might face”.

Sponsored by No.10, a new innovation fellowship programme has also been launched to attract top digital and tech talent from across the UK and from overseas into government itself. Those admitted to the programme will be expected to work on the modernisation of public services with adoption of cutting-edge tech, as well as innovative approaches from outside government.

The government also wants the UK talent offer to be “stronger than ever”, while making it easier for skilled people to come from other parts of the world. As part of the new rules, which include a number of immigration changes aimed at streamlining the attraction of talent, international students who complete a PhD from Summer 2021 can stay in the UK for three years after study. The idea is that these students will find work after their studies and contribute to the UK economic growth.

The £300m investment in the upgrade of scientific infrastructure across the UK is intended to enable research institutes and universities to ensure researchers have access to better lab equipment, digital resources, and to improve and maintain current research facilities.

Other commitments include setting up a new Innovation Expert Group to review and improve how the government supports research, from inception through to product development. The UK government also wants to boost international collaboration with science and innovation communities and research institutions to create commercial opportunities, as well as drive growth and influence.

In June 2020, the government had announced a series of measures around a future trade plan for UK tech, which aim to create jobs and increase technology exports, as well as encouraging international investments into the country.

As part of the latest announcement, the government also said it wants to maintain a close relationship with the EU, by agreeing on “a fair and balanced deal” for participation in EU R&D schemes such as Horizon Europe. If this fails to happen, the government said it will meet any funding shortfalls and will also create alternative schemes to support UK research.

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