Techies ask PM to 'prepare UK chip strategy as a matter of urgency'

Yeah, and make it something better than just asking Arm to dual-list in London...

Tech industry luminaries have politely asked the UK Prime Minister to pull his finger out when it comes to delivering a strategy for the future of the UK semiconductor sector, or it may not have one at all.

In a letter [PDF] sent to the PM (Rishi Sunak at the time of writing), the IT pros point out that semiconductors are "vital components that power our everyday lives" and that Britain was once a world leader in the field, and is still currently home to notable chip design companies (hello Arm) as well as leaders in compound semiconductors.

What the UK semiconductor industry needs is a coordinated and comprehensive strategy, the letter states, and the technology and manufacturing sectors are still waiting for one, more than two years after it was mentioned. What confidence there is in the government's ability to address this industry's vital importance is steadily declining with each month of inaction, the missive adds.

The letter suggests that any such strategy should address four areas; foster British strengths in design innovation and research by prioritizing R&D investment; support UK-based assets while partnering with strategic allies to attract inward investment; introduce open access foundries to meet the chip design and manufacturing needs of startups; and support jobs and skills to grow our domestic industry and attract tech talent.

This sentiment echoes that of a House of Commons Committee report published last year, which warned that the UK is missing out on investment in the semiconductor industry because the country lacks an a complete end-to-end supply chain.

That report called on the government to set out a semiconductor strategy and put in place a sector-wide deal to provide funding for UK semiconductor companies. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) had planned to publish a semiconductor strategy "in autumn 2022," the report authors noted, but this has still to put in an appearance.

The new letter is signed by a number of tech industry leaders, not least of which is Hermann Hauser, director of Amadeus Capital Partners and well known as one of the co-founders of Acorn Computers.

Others include the founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates Russ Shaw CBE; Juergen Maier CBE, former CEO of Siemens and vice chair of Northern Powerhouse Partnership; Sherry Coutu CBE, chair of the Raspberry Pi Foundation; Julian David, CEO of techUK; Jillian Hughes, network director for the National Microelectronics Institute; WANdisco CEO David Richards, and Dialog Semiconductor former CEO Jalal Baghleri.

The letter warns that any status Britain currently has as a leading tech ecosystem is at risk, noting that while the US, the EU and China have acted swiftly to invest in silicon research and construction of chip fabrication plants, the UK has yet to make any meaningful progress.

This is a reference to the passing last year of the CHIPS Act in the US, opening up $52 billion in funding for America's semiconductor industry, plus the comparable European Chips Act, which aims to provide €43 billion ($44.8 billion) funding for EU companies. The UK spent tens of billions of pounds itself last year... trying to recover from former PM Liz Truss' brief game of economic destruction.

The matter is not just an issue for the technology sector, the letter authors warn, as the issue has geopolitical relevance as well.

Taiwan produces the lion's share of the world's advanced chips and commands significant influence as the major manufacturer of semiconductors, the letter states, before spelling it out: "Given the nation is at the center of tensions between China and the West, it is paramount that global dependence on Taiwan is addressed."

We asked the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for an update on when we could expect to see the government's belated semiconductor strategy, and it sent us the following statement:

"We are committed to supporting the UK's vitally important semiconductor industry. We are reviewing our domestic capabilities to develop a new semiconductor strategy which will grow the sector further and make sure our supply chains remain resilient. Our strategy will be published as soon as possible." ®

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