UK to launch new research agency to support high risk, high reward science

The UK’s next generation of pioneering inventors will be backed by a new independent scientific research agency, the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has announced today (Friday 19 February), as part of government plans to cement the UK’s position as a global science superpower.

The new agency, the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA), will be tasked with funding high-risk research that offers the chance of high rewards, supporting ground-breaking discoveries that could transform people’s lives for the better.

The UK has a long and proud history of inventing that dates back centuries – from Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing who pioneered early predecessors of the computer, Thomas Newcomen and James Watt who transformed travel by creating steam engines, William Grove who created fuel cells and Frank Partridge who helped save millions of lives by developing the first portable defibrillator.

The creation of ARIA will continue this tradition, backed by £800 million, to fund the most inspiring inventors to turn their transformational ideas into new technologies, discoveries, products and services – helping to maintain the UK’s position as a global science superpower.

The new agency will be independent of government and led by some of the world’s most visionary researchers who will be empowered to use their knowledge and expertise to identify and back the most ambitious, cutting-edge areas of research and technology – helping to create highly skilled jobs across the country. It will be able to do so with flexibility and speed by looking at how to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy and experimenting with different funding models.

ARIA will be based on models that have proved successful in other countries, in particular the influential US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) model. This was instrumental in creating transformational technologies such as the internet and GPS, changing the way people live and work, while increasing productivity and growth. More recently, ARPA’s successor, DARPA, was a vital pre-pandemic funder of mRNA vaccines and antibody therapies, leading to critical COVID therapies.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said:

  • From the steam engine to the latest artificial intelligence technologies, the UK is steeped in scientific discovery. Today’s set of challenges – whether disease outbreaks or climate change – need bold, ambitious and innovative solutions.
  • Led independently by our most exceptional scientists, this new agency will focus on identifying and funding the most cutting-edge research and technology at speed.
  • By stripping back unnecessary red tape and putting power in the hands of our innovators, the agency will be given the freedom to drive forward the technologies of tomorrow, as we continue to build back better through innovation.

Central to the agency will be its ability to deliver funding to the UK’s most pioneering researchers flexibly and at speed, in a way that best supports their work and avoids unnecessary bureaucracy. It will experiment with funding models including program grants, seed grants, and prize incentives, and will have the capability to start and stop projects according to their success, redirecting funding where necessary. It will have a much higher tolerance for failure than is normal, recognising that in research the freedom to fail is often also the freedom to succeed.

Science and Innovation Minister Amanda Solloway said:

  • The UK’s scientific community has a proud history of discovery, producing iconic inventors such as Alan Turing whose imagination and creativity changed the world as we know it.

    But to rise to the challenges of the 21st century we need to equip our R&D community with a new scientific engine – one that embraces the idea that truly great successes come from taking great leaps into the unknown.

    ARIA will unleash our most inspirational scientists and inventors, empowering them with the freedom to drive forward their scientific vision and explore game-changing new ideas at a speed like never before. This will help to create new inventions, technologies and industries that will truly cement the UK’s status as a global science superpower.

Legislation to create the new research agency will be introduced to Parliament as soon as parliamentary time allows. The aim is for it to be fully operational by 2022.

Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said:

  • The Advanced Research and Invention Agency will build on the UK’s world-class scientific research and innovation system. The importance of scientific innovation has never been clearer than over the last year and this new body provides an exciting new funding mechanism for pioneering R&D.

The new body will complement the work of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) while building on the government’s ambitious R&D Roadmap published in July 2020. In November 2020, the Spending Review set out the government’s plan to cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science and innovation by investing £14.6 billion in R&D in 2021 to 2022, putting the UK on track to reach 2.4% of GDP being spent on R&D across the UK economy by 2027.

AEB (National – Non Devolved) Contract / ESFA / Straplan – Bid Appraisal

The ESFA has launched the much-anticipated Invitation to Tender for direct AEB funding contracts on Saturday.  Straplan have completed our FULL AEB bid appraisal of the National AEB Invitation to Tender; some key points are;

  • Applicants DO NOT NEED to be listed on RoTO
  • Contracts will start in Aug 2021
  • Notification of award: 24/06/2021
  • Funding Value £73m made up of: £7m Level 3 NSF, £66m General AEB (SWAP).
  • Statutory entitlements including first full Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications for learners aged 19-23, English and Maths and digital skills for learners aged 19 and over
  • Flexible tailored provision for adults, including qualifications and components of these and/or non-regulated learning, up to level 2, including provision delivered to unemployed learners through a sector-based work academy programme (SWAP)

Our deadline for applications is 17:00 on the 21/3/2021.

Our bid writing team are extremely busy with confirmed clients but we do have limited availability to support more providers

If you would like a full copy of our AEB bid appraisal or Straplan to support your bid application, please contact John Clarke immediately at or call 07751 240 342 to speak to him directly.

ESFA finally launches £73m adult education budget tender

The long-awaited national adult education budget tender (AEB Tender 2021) has been launched by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

Bids for a slice of the £73 million initially up for grabs in 2021/22 are being invited over the next six weeks, with a final deadline of 10am – 22 March 2021.

The procurement includes caps depending on the type of provider applying for the funding to “mitigate significant oversubscription and speculative bidding”. A minimum contract value has been set at £150,000 and a maximum of £3 million.

The ESFA had originally planned to launch the tender in July 2020 but it has faced a number of setbacks. It is a “re-procurement” exercise, and follows roughly the same scope as the controversial AEB tender that caused havoc in 2017 – the contracts for which expire at the end of July year.

Priority courses for this tender includes the new first full level 3 qualification offer for those aged 24 and over as per the prime minister’s lifetime skills guarantee, as well as sector-based work academy programmes (SWAPs) – both of which were key features in the chancellor’s Plan for Jobs.

Each provider that bids will have their financial health assessed to ensure “its ability to meet ongoing financial commitments”.

For “new” providers, they will have bids capped at £1 million, subcontractors will be capped at £2 million, and “existing” providers will be capped at £3 million.

Traineeships are excluded from this procurement. Only providers with an AEB grant allocation (such as colleges) and those part of the current traineeship tender exercise will have access to traineeship funding in 2021/22.

The total AEB procurement could potentially reach £157 million if extensions are granted in future years, but these are not guaranteed.

Outcomes are set to be communicated to bidders by 24 June and the service start date will be 1 August 2021.

This tender is just be for the national budget, not for devolved combined authorities which run their own procurements.

Straplan have been working on strategies for this competition for some time. For more information on how our team can support your application please call us on 07739 526500.

AEB procurement ESFA looking for “less more quality bids”

During last week’s webinar the ESFA hinted that the number of national contracts awarded through the 2021 National AEB procurement could be reduced minimising its contracts directly managed by them.

The ITT is set to be launched in the first week of February 2021 and have a deadline of the middle of March giving applicants six weeks to prepare its submissions. The ESFA gave indications that it is expected to look similar to the 2017 programme (hopefully without the drama!) but with a few notable differences:

  • Traineeships & community learning will not be included.
  • A new adult provision will help adults without a full qualification at L3 gain in-demand skills to open up further job opportunities.  Open to 24+years for over 400 fully funded L3 courses.  Funding will come from the NSF National Skills Fund.

Straplan expect a very high number of applicants for this competition. It has never been so important to receive the best advice, support & professional assistance in completing your application. Straplan are the UK number 1 for AEB applications & has helped hundreds of providers across the country for over 30 years.

If you would like to chat through your options of how Straplan can help you from start to finish ahead of the publication of the ESFA documents please call Stuart on 07739 526500 or email