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A new bill has been introduced to Parliament to create the UK’s Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), an agency that will have the powers and freedoms to fund and develop scientific research at pace.
Announced in February 2021, ARIA has a model based on the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) and its successor Darpa. The new agency is supported by £800m in funding and will be backing high-risk research that offers the chance of high rewards in terms of their transformational impact on society.
ARIA will look at how to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy, and will experiment with different funding models such as programme and seed grants, as well as prize incentives, to achieve its goals of backing pioneering research. It will also have greater tolerance to failure than what is normally accepted, as well as the ability to start and stop projects according to their success.
The ARIA Bill, introduced on 2 March, outlines the legislative framework and governance for the new agency. According to the government, it is acknowledged that “ambitious, high-risk research requires patience”, so the agency will be provided with the long-term security needed for it to achieve its goals – the bill sets a 10-year grace period before any potential dissolution of the agency can be triggered.
As part of the new proposals, the government’s intention is that ARIA will not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FoI). The justification given by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is that not having to respond to FoI requests will reduce the administrative time required to process them, and that it protects “Britain’s competitive advantage”, while allowing the ARIA to run “an extremely lean and agile operating mode”, which the government understands to be “essential to its design and ultimate success”.
In addition, the bill is intended to ensure that the agility expected of ARIA is “balanced with necessary accountability and oversight”. The agency will be scrutinised by the National Audit Office (NAO) and will be obliged to share information about its activities in a proactive manner, as well as to submit an annual report of its functions and statement of accounts, which will be laid before Parliament for scrutiny.
“ARIA will be equipped with all the tools and freedoms it needs to succeed – placing our world-leading scientists at the heart of decision-making, stripping back red tape and giving our best minds license to invest in the most transformative research at speeds like never before,” said business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.
The business secretary will also hold “robust powers” to intervene in the interests of national security. Such situations could involve ordering ARIA to stop a project if it involves “certain hostile actors”, or ceasing specific programmes.