The debate

Following the formal presentations, the speakers came together in a panel to respond to comments and questions from the audience. Topics included: EU and UK strategies; education; research; scale-up; and economy-wide challenges.

The EU and the US are looking to create a comprehensive silicon fabrication capability. The UK, on the other hand, is focussing on those elements where it already has market strength without trying to compete with those two.

The National Semiconductor Strategy suggests that the UK’s STEM and skills programmes will result in areas of competitive advantage. In this country, universities are extremely good at research, and they are extremely good at producing graduates with relevant skills. If we do this correctly, we can develop a pipeline to bring these talented people into the industry.

There is £150,000 being invested in local schools on STEM initiatives, to help to supply engineers and technicians of the future. The industry has established graduate apprentices as well.

£1 billion can make a difference if it is spent in a focussed way. In the past, the Government has concentrated much of its support on early stage research, but we need continuity of support for our existing manufacturing facilities as well.

With new high growth compound technologies coming through, the country needs to be able to achieve a faster return on investment. A sovereign investment fund targeting semiconductor manufacturing would be very helpful in this regard, perhaps also some more focused technology-specific venture capital funds of the kind already seen with space technology.

The issue of scale-up is a key challenge for many industries include semiconductors. Yet the risks do not evaporate once a magic company size is achieved. They will need continuing support if the sector is to remain healthy and if all parts of it are to thrive. Back in the 1970s, we had some really big tech companies like Plessey, GEC and Ferranti who all had their own research centres as well. None of them survived. How can the country avoid repeating the mistakes of the Governments of that era who did not support our key domestic clubs industries at that time?

Some of the fundamental constraints that are holding back growth in this sector are not technology-specific. Instead, they are issues around planning restrictions, electricity grid capacity, fundamental skills and training that are required across manufacturing industry – as well as the sheer length of time it takes to get things done.