19 May 2023
The UK government has unveiled its long-awaited National Semiconductor Strategy, which aims to boost the UK’s semiconductor industry’s strengths and skills (focusing on design, intellectual property, R&D and compound semiconductors) while safeguarding supply chains from disruption and protecting the technology sector against national security risks.
Working in tandem with industry, the government investment aims to drive research, innovation and commercialization through the sector — helping to deliver products from lab to market.
With semiconductors underpinning future technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), quantum and 6G, the strategy focuses on particular areas deemed to be of strategic advantage to the UK in the semiconductors sector — design, compound semiconductors, and the R&D ecosystem — supported by UK universities from Cambridge to Cardiff and Manchester to Edinburgh.
Used in evolving technologies such as autonomous driving and future telecoms, the creation of compound semiconductors in particular requires expertise in advanced materials, a focus of UK science.
Growing the UK industry
To support the growth of the sector in the UK, the government will invest up to £200m over 2023–2025 to improve industry access to infrastructure, power more R&D and facilitate greater international cooperation.
Taking a strategic approach to investment over the next decade, the government will invest up to £1bn in a range of measures targeted at securing what are perceived to be the UK’s advantage and meeting three key objectives:
- growing the domestic sector;
- mitigating the risk of supply chain disruptions;
- protecting national security.
The new funding will be used to improve the talent pipeline and will make it easier for British firms to access things like prototyping, tools and business support.
These efforts will include investment in a new National Semiconductor Infrastructure Initiative to unlock the potential of British chip firms in these key areas. It will look at whether better access to prototyping facilities for chip firms is needed to tackle barriers to innovation and grow the industry. It will also explore opportunities to make specialist software tools more available for start-ups. The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology commissioned research that will look at the best way to establish the Infrastructure initiative. This will report its findings in the autumn.
Furthermore, the government will announce plans by the autumn on support for investment in the semiconductor manufacturing sector, particularly where they are critical to the UK tech ecosystem or national security.
Safeguarding supply chains
Taking a semiconductor chip from lab to market can involve thousands of production stages taking place across the world, with various locations that have particularly concentrated production capabilities. The surge in demand for consumer electronics during the pandemic demonstrated how global industries can be impacted by semiconductor supply issues. This strategy highlights the importance of collaboration with international allies to develop secure supply chain resilience.
The UK government says it will take steps to help sectors mitigate the impact of supply shortages in the future. It also wants to protect critical sectors (essential services, healthcare, critical national infrastructure and defence) from disruptions that could cause risks to life, or national security. To help ensure that the UK is better protected against future disruption the government commits to:
- new guidance to be published to help businesses better understand risks and steps they can take to be more resilient against supply chain shocks;
- continued collaboration through international initiatives — like the UK’s technology partnerships with the US, Japan, and the Republic of Korea — to explore shared approaches and solutions to improve global supply chain resilience.
International cooperation for supply chain resilience
The UK’s Integrated Review placed securing strategic advantage in science and technology at the heart of the UK’s national security and foreign policy. In recognition of the fundamental importance of semiconductor technologies in these areas, as part of the National Semiconductor Strategy the UK will increase its cooperation with close partners, working together to manage national security threats and driving growth in the sector, while championing international cooperation to help develop a coordinated approach to supply chain resilience.
Announcement of the plan follows a UK and Japan commitment to establish collaboration in the semiconductor sector, spanning R&D cooperation, skills exchanges, and improving the resilience of the semiconductor supply chain. Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is attending the G7 leaders’ Summit in Hiroshima, Japan for discussions on strengthening tech collaboration with “like-minded economies” and strengthening supply chains for critical technology like semiconductors.
In Hiroshima, the UK and Japan committed to establishing a semiconductor partnership — led by the UK’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) — that seeks to deliver new R&D cooperation, skills exchanges, and improving the resilience of the semiconductor supply chain for both countries.
UK Research and Innovation will work with the Japan Science and Technology Agency on a joint investment of up to £2m in early-stage semiconductor research next year that will support UK and Japanese researchers to work together on fundamental semiconductor technologies.
Protecting UK against security risks
Semiconductors can create vulnerabilities in the electronic devices they are used in, and these risks are becoming more significant as the use of Internet-connected devices increases. A compromise to the cyber-security of hardware is not acceptable. The acquisition of chip firms can also present national security issues. The strategy announces actions to protect the UK against these security risks including:
- additional information on the government’s approach to using the National Security and Investment Act, providing information to the industry on what areas of the sector the government has seen particular concerns potentially arising to ensure technology remains securely protected;
- the government continuing to support programs like Digital Security by Design, which aims to ensure that semiconductors can be more resilient and secure in the face of growing cyber-threats.
Semiconductor Advisory Panel
The UK government says that its strategy has been developed in close consultation with the semiconductor industry and academia, and it will build on this partnership by creating:
- a new UK Semiconductor Advisory Panel that brings together key figures from industry, government and academia to work together on shared solutions and implementation of the strategy. The Advisory Panel will speak on behalf of the sector and provide advice and feedback;
- a specialist incubator pilot that will focus on removing obstacles that hold semiconductor start-ups back from growth. The scheme will provide industry with better access to technical resources as well as coaching and networking;
- support for industry-led learning that will ensure people can gain the skills the semiconductor industry needs. Programs will provide opportunities for learning focused on the advanced skills needed for the sector, such as electrical and electronic engineering and computer science.
Project to explore ideas to build on UK’s strengths in design, compound semiconductors and advanced technologies