National Physical Laboratory

NPL responds to the House of Commons report on Quantum Technologies

The House of Commons (HOC) Science and Technology Select Committee has released its Report on Quantum Technologies. The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) submitted written evidence to this committee and Dr Peter Thompson, NPL's Chief Executive Officer, was called as a witness to give oral evidence to the committee in July.

We welcome the conclusions and recommendations delivered in the report and note that they closely align to the outputs from the NPL-led activity earlier this year, in which we explored the opportunities and barriers for large businesses to engage with the quantum programme. Following this work we published our industry engagement recommendations report.

In particular, we note the committee's recommendation that there should be innovation centres established "to provide access to facilities for developing, manufacturing, testing and validating quantum technologies."

As a national laboratory with unique facilities and more than 100 quantum scientists, we look forward to coordinating the delivery of the test and validation activity for quantum technologies in the UK. This capability will be greatly increased next year with the completion of our Advanced Quantum Metrology Laboratory, which will be a new centre for the development of leading-edge quantum technologies and an environment for close collaboration with industry and universities.

The committee report also recommends that funding bodies should "design the rules applying to funding calls around the aims of the project." This aligns well with the recommendation from the NPL report which says that funding rules for collaborative projects should "encourage major companies to engage fully with collaborative projects with minimum overheads."

This includes the ability for large companies to fully engage without receiving funding if that is their preference. Funding schemes should be available to companies of all scales, from multinational to start-ups. Aligned with this approach is the need to enable the involvement of all capable organisations to help deliver the technological progress required.

NPL and other measurement laboratories working with Innovate UK have recently initiated a number of small quantum technology projects under a scheme called 'Analysis for Innovators' (A4i). A4i gives small- and medium-sized companies access to measurement facilities and expertise which can be used to solve problems for their customers in the public sector. We support any further investment in this area through an expanded Small Business Research Initiative programme.

The committee report also recognises the need to ensure "appropriate training is available at undergraduate, technician and apprenticeship level alongside continued provision at PhD level." This is very important to build the total workforce which quantum-based businesses will need.

NPL recognises the potential critical importance of quantum technologies to national infrastructure and security, which is why we are working with other government agencies to develop programmes of assurance for quantum technologies, to ensure that the application of new technologies can effectively support the resilience of the UK. A strong approach to supporting international collaborations while protecting national intellectual property is a necessary activity, as technologies become closer to realisation.

We support the recommendation for further improved coordination across the various elements of the national programme as it continues to expand and moves into the second phase. We also agree that there should be a new executive board made up of senior representatives from industry, government and academia, with the mission to develop an effective UK quantum technologies industry.

This board should have the power to make decisions over the delivery mechanisms and priorities of phase two of the National Programme. We suggest that this board should have the equivalent of a CEO and a Chairman to function to best effect – operating across the programme, delivering programme level activities such as promoting the opportunities of quantum to industry, as well as seeking out new industries not currently involved in the programme. The committee recommendation that this board should be set up within three months is important to ensure the coordinated leadership in line with the expanding programme.

To conclude, NPL supports the report and its recommendations, which recognises similar conclusions to our previous engagement activity with industry. We look forward to being part of the team delivering new technology and national capability in support of phase two of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme.

Find out more about NPL's work around quantum technologies

Last Updated: 10 Dec 2018
Created: 19 Nov 2018

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