Semiconductors

DOI: https://www.doi.org/ 10.53289/YUOW7065

Securing the UK semiconductor industry

Paul Scully

Paul Scully MP is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy) at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. He is also Minister for London. He was previously Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and before that Minister of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. He is MP for Sutton and Cheam.

SUMMARY

  • Semiconductors are at the heart of today‚Äôs technologies and those of tomorrow
  • The UK must understand both the opportunities and the risks involved
  • The country is already strong in this sector, providing a platform for growth
  • A key concern is to build supply chain resilience
  • Cybersecurity is fundamental to protecting people and the economy.

The Government's aim is to become a science and technology superpower. That means growing a stronger and more innovative economy, with better jobs and embracing new discoveries which make a real difference to people's lives and livelihoods. The plan is ambitious, and one of the steps we are taking to deliver on those ambitions is our National Semiconductor Strategy.

Semiconductors are at the core of today's technologies but are also essential elements in our efforts to lead the world of tomorrow. New technologies will bring tangible benefits to British businesses as well as to people in every part of the country.

After crude oil, refined oil and coal, semiconductors are the most-traded products in the world. As the tech revolution picks up pace, they will matter more than ever. So, the National Semiconductor Strategy sets out a plan to enable the UK to stay at the forefront of that revolution by building a foundation on our core strengths in semiconductor technologies.

The opportunities are enormous but as we look to seize them, we must be clear about the risks too. Semiconductors are fundamental to many technologies which are critical for keeping people healthy and safe – from medical ventilators right through to fighter jets. Supply chains are vulnerable and hostile states may seek to acquire semiconductor technical advantage to the detriment of our national security.

In the face of those risks, this strategy is clear: we cannot and must not allow our economic and national security to be compromised. So the Government’s vision, informed by and delivered with industry, aims to enable the UK to secure world-leading positions in the semiconductor technologies of the future. The strategy sets out three key objectives for delivering that ambition over the next 20 years: growing the UK sector by building on its strengths; making supply chains more resilient; and protecting our national security.

Growing the sector

The UK has enormous strengths in this field, from compound semiconductors to R&D, IP and chip design. The Government will focus on each of those areas of expertise where we have a strong foothold, enabling us to secure our position in the global market. Industry already receives extensive support, and this will continue. Going forward, the strategy will accelerate the creation of new companies and innovative new technologies.

Getting that support right starts with listening to businesses. They have said that the costs of accessing critical equipment, infrastructure and skills are some of the most significant barriers to growth. This strategy will address these barriers, not solely through Government action, but through partnerships with industry and academia.

This strategy will deliver an investment of up to £200 million in 2023-25 with up to £1 billion in the next decade. The Government is also launching a UK Semiconductor Infrastructure Initiative, supporting businesses to access the software tools and manufacturing equipment that they need to design, prototype, pilot and produce innovations. This is about supporting businesses of all sizes, including our youngest businesses, our spinouts, startups and scale-ups. To do this, there will a pilot incubator programme, helping startup semiconductor companies in the UK access the tools they need to grow and thrive.

The Government will announce plans by the autumn to further support the competitiveness of the semiconductor manufacturing sector. Retaining that competitiveness starts, just as in any sector, with finding the right people with the right skills. That can be a challenge. Education is right at the heart of our Science and Technology Framework, with plans to improve STEM all the way from classrooms to graduate labs. This strategy also provides specific help for the sector through doctoral training to maximise opportunities for people and ensure the industry has highly-skilled people with the right qualifications for the job.

In developing the strategy, we listened to businesses, academics and leading figures in industry. To continue this process, we have created a Semiconductor Advisory Panel, bringing together key figures in order to shape the future of the sector in the UK.

Supply chain

To create a successful semiconductor sector and maintain that success in the future, we have to look beyond our borders. The second objective of the strategy is to build supply chain resilience and safeguard the UK against supply chain disruption.

The semiconductor supply chain is both global and complex, so no country can feasibly possess an end-to-end capability. We learned from the pandemic that shocks to the supply chain can and will happen. The UK will have to safeguard a reliable supply of semiconductors as best it can, including individual components and finished goods. That means decisive domestic action as well as international collaboration.

The Government is investing in new programmes such as Digital Security by Design to protect future innovations against cyberattacks. 

Working with suppliers to our critical industries (including critical national infrastructure) enables us to address and adjust to risks. At the same time, we are pursuing bilateral and multilateral engagement approaches to these shared challenges with like-minded nations such as the US, Europe and Japan.

Even while we remain open to international collaboration, however, we remain committed to doing all that is necessary to protect the UK against security risks associated with semiconductor technologies.

Protecting our security

The third objective of the strategy is to protect our people. So, we will continue to protect our most sensitive semiconductor companies and technologies from those that would jeopardise our national security. We have done so through the National Security and Investment Act, as well as through our export control regime.

In a world where technology is more and more connected, we need to be able to trust the devices we rely on, in our businesses, infrastructure and homes. So we are building on our existing experience in hardware security and investing in new programmes like Digital Security by Design, in order to secure the products of the future against cyberattacks.

This ambitious National Semiconductor Strategy represents the culmination of a collaboration between Government, industry, and academia. From growing the UK sector with the right infrastructure, skills and support for startups, to improving the resilience of our supply chains, and protecting our national security: we have a vision for the future.

The vision is different from those of other countries, but that is as it should be: it focusses on doing what is best for Britain. It concentrates on growing the economy, providing highly-skilled, well-paid jobs and boosting transformative tech. I am confident it will succeed.