back to article Bone-dry British tech SMBs miss out on UK.gov cash shower

Government technology promotion agency Innovate UK, the former Technology Strategy Board (TSB), surprised many last year when it agreed to spend no less than £800,000 on a piece of software that would “minimise building waste” sent to landfill by construction companies. The happy recipients for this bizarre project included …

Was this story a first draft? What's wrong with these paragraphs...

Overall, the North West gets only per cent of total UK grants from Innovate UK, and Yorks/Humber only five per cent, while London gets 25 per cent and the South East 17 per cent. This means that hundreds of hard-pressed engineering firms in the north have been deprived of adequate support.

Instead, dozens of doubtful digital media firms – which hardly need the cash – have been millions of pounds – but will little tangle result in nearly all cases

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Yes but

IUK isnt about (re)generating geographical areas. Its about generating and exploiting potential ideas, primarily for exports. If you can show that the North is prejudiced against, thats a story. Most likely its due to more (and better) applications from down south on the M4 corridor. Not that there aren't good ideas up north but the stats are against them.

If you're not doing well in getting money (grants or clients), you might be terminally unlucky. But its more likely other people are better than you. So improve. IUK aren't fools when it comes to technology or business cases.

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Big Brother

Hey steady on now, the London Tories making all these decisions do recognize the true value of the North.

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Re: Yes but

You are either Steve Bong or on his payroll, and I claim my 6,537 EUR (@ current exchange rate).

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Paris Hilton

But I thought the proper role of government these days was to guard the coastlines and let UPS deliver the mail?

How did Innovate UK survive the great Quango-killing spree?

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Re: Yes but

9 down and 1 up?

You lot need to research what Innovate UK is actually about.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Yes but

Maybe the other down voters have also had some dealings with Innovate UK ?

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This post has been deleted by its author

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Re: Yes but

> 9 down and 1 up?

You either replied to a random posting or completely misunderstood what he was saying.

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WTF?

Oddly enough, I read this and as soon as I saw that they'd dropped the business case basis I thought; "Aha! The lefties have been at this........".

"Business = bad. Equality for all[1] = Good.". Who's usually chanting that mantra then?

[1] I.E. drag everyone down to the level of the terminally useless.

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Re: Yes but @ Harri Kiri

There *may* be something to your comment, but, to me, it is the same principle in action as with research grants in academia - the money goes to those who have received it before, usually for basically he same application as succeeded before. This creates a circular process in which anyone with certain connections gets money, whilst newcomers don't. Thus there is a reinforcement of the idea that university X is good because it gets money, so it gets money because it is good. Academics are poor at allocating money outside their perceived ideas of good. That the IUK money is being targeted in the same geographical regions as get the lion's share of research grant money is, unfortunately, no surprise.

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Re: Yes but @ Harri Kiri

Evidence please.

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Boffin

Re: Yes but @ Harry Kiri

There may be some gems of truth in your original post, but the minute I read the subtle hints dropped in the article about the assessments being done by academics as a paper exercise with not even business cases being asked for I could immediately grasp the problem. I speak from experience in saying you just cannot understand a business or a new concept by asking them to fill in an application form.

I have had plenty of new concepts pitched to me by small businesses and startups. If at all possible, I will always try to visit their site, meet their engineers not just their sales managers and ask them to explain in plain English what it is they are proposing to do and how. I will also challenge them to show me any evidence on how successful their product could be (eg. field tests are best) and I will carefully read their body language and voice to see how shifty they are being when they reply. If I am meant to be awarding them some money, I damn well want to have some confidence that they will spend it properly. Plus visiting company sites is always a good learning experience and usually quite fun.

There are loads of Government sponsored ways of helping small companies progress these days, but loads of red tape and too often little understanding of how effective their programmes are or what it is that those companies really need or even that they know what they are doing.

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Re: Yes but ..... and, alternatively.

IUK aren't fools when it comes to technology or business cases. …. Harry Kiri

That posit is being presently tested of them here too, and here ….. http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2016/01/20/innovate_uk_backing_the_wrong_horse/#c_2753481 ..... in order for their demonstration and accession into Future Virtual Fitnesses with Remote Purposeful Cyber Command and IT Control.

Now that, methinks, ladies and gents, is AI Heavenly Leverage and impossible to terrorise and counter with failed intelligence, toing and froing between Leading Public Players …… Cracked and Hacked Elite Sources with Old Ploughed Trail Follower Forces.

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Re: Yes but ..... and, alternatively.

@StephenBrowning You have CQI mail to share and tweet ……..

http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2016/01/20/innovate_uk_backing_the_wrong_horse/#c_2753656

I wouldn't want anyone to be thinking they are not contacted and connected/forewarned of Future HyperRadioProActive Events. Quite whether they be Forearmed to Resist ITs Sweetest of Temptations, is Quite Something Else Altogether Stupid.

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jzl
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Almost infinite monkeys

You need a few more monkeys; they're trying, but they're not there yet. This article reads like it was translated by Google from Tagalog.

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Re: Almost infinite monkeys

I bet it was spat out of an automatic article generator created by one of "dozens of doubtful digital media firms – which hardly need the cash"

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Re: Almost infinite monkeys

Borderline illegible. The comments section, thus far, has produced a more comprehensible narrative.

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Re: Almost infinite monkeys

Not more mokeys. More peanuts for the monkeys.

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Re: Almost infinite monkeys

3 monkeys, 30 minutes.

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Where is the editor for this article? Good lord how far have standards fallen at El Reg?

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"Where is the editor for this article?"

I don't know about the editor for this article but I've just been spammed on my private domain by the ex-editor. Anybody else?

It looks as if I'm going to have to set up a new alias for reporting typos or use my hotmail spam bin address.

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That's interesting - I got an email from Lewis yesterday, but I have corresponded with him previously. It would be bad if he has been in touch on an email address that was used for something else (like reporting errors).

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Email?

Shocking. He may have used *email* to contact someone. If only you'd given him your phone number instead.

Seriously?

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Facepalm

More investment in dictation software?

I was thinking with some of the problems that it seemed to be misinterpretation by voice recognition software followed by a spell-check. I was composing an 'errors' email for the first mistake I spotted when I fell into the 'little tangle result' paragraph and gave up!

I realise there are tight margins and deadlines to meet, but *some* proofreading might be nice?

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Anonymous Coward

Rate this article: 3 (and probably too generous at that)

There probably is a story here somewhere, but the already-noted quality of the writing, editing, and proof-reading makes it hard to see what the underlying point really is, except that Westminster is clueless. And who didn't already know that?

Editing and proof-reading comments apply to the author's profile page here at El Reg too.

Better luck next time (see you in 2017?).

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What % did the South West get?

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Anonymous Coward

That's asking a bit much given that we don't know what % the North West got, which was kind of the point of the article!

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See? Even articles with focus on the North get short shrift.

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Anonymous Coward

That's what you get when a Londoner tries to write an article about something outside the M25.

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Outside the M25

they all suffer from extreme agoraphobia.

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They could have saved £400,000

By giving me £400,000 to do the job.

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"Instead, dozens of doubtful digital media firms – which hardly need the cash – have been millions of pounds – but will little tangle result in nearly all cases."

- your haaaands are typing woooords

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"Oddly enough, the one sector in the UK that has really boomed in the past 15 years – food and drink – has enjoyed relatively little funding or intervention from Innovate UK"

Why does it need funding or intervention from Innovate UK when it is booming already?

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"Why does it need funding or intervention from Innovate UK when it is booming already?"

Because it's not "digital" enough yet. Remember, in order for Britain to thrive and re-build it's empire everything has to be fully "digital".

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"In addition, there is no market for the product as companies already strain to reduce the amounts sent to landfill and avoid excessive charges."

If they already strain to reduce the amount I'd have thought that that would make them a ready market for a product intended to help them.

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" £800,000 on a piece of software that would “minimise building waste” sent to landfill by construction companies....In the real world, such software might cost £5,000 maximum. "

I'll take the optimistic view that when the project was evaluated, it was on the basis of the savings projected. I think that - in the words of Bob Newhart* - the conversation went something like this:

A: "How much do firms lose on average in landfill waste charges?"

B: "Got that here in this report"

A: "OK, how many construction firms are there on this sort of work?"

B: "It's here on page 5 of this report"

A: "Right. So, landfill cost charge times number of firms equals...Pass me the calculator. Wow, that's a big number"

B: "That is, isn't it."

A: "So if we could reduce that by 20%, it'd still be worth spending money on."

B: "Even if we spent 5% on the answer, that'd leave industry 15% better off. Have we got any funds?"

C: "If it's a IT thing, we could get Innovate UK to do it. Give it to them."

A: "OK. Next item on the agenda is?"

And that, my friend, is that.

*I know, I didn't do it as a one-sided conversation.

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" £800,000 on a piece of software that would “minimise building waste” sent to landfill by construction companies....In the real world, such software might cost £5,000 maximum. "

I'm not sure what "real world" the author was thinking of, but I would expect the recipients of the IUK monies would have submitted a proposal containing a description of the functionality the software would contain and a cost breakdown to justify the envisaged development costs and the level of investment being requested.

I suspect, inspite of the credentials in his bio, Marcus has little real knowledge of business and the difference between the level of investment needed to deliver a product and the price such a product may be sold at...

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As suspected the author hasn't bothered to do even basic research, the funding was primarily for a two-year research project and hence came from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Innovate UK (not been able to identify any further details but expect >50% of the funding came from the EPSC).

http://www.khl.com/magazines/demolition-and-recycling-international/detail/item112733/University-study-to-place-demolition-first

https://info.uwe.ac.uk/news/uwenews/news.aspx?id=3209

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Anonymous Coward

Yeh, well...

There's a raft of major problems in this space, which are barely touched on in the article.

Re. "smart" - the politicos like high profile anouncements, this is under their radar.

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Anonymous Coward

Ees right thar kid. I tried t'get fundin fer me whippet tracker wi nay luck.

Seriously though I would assume that advertising of said funding being concentrated in the south would be a factor?

Also being cynical I see these things as just ways for the government to siphon off money for whatever reason to whoever they want.

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not so Smart

I'm currently in a tech start-up consisting of myself (electronics hardware/firmware and CTO), and my partner (software and CEO). Do you think we can find a grant that doesn't require more time in applications/interviews/bovine excretion than it actually awards in grants? by the time we had finished the process and gotten a grant, we could have engineered it 3 times over (OK, maybe slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean).

I even have a friend whose wife works for the local grants group.. she said unless you have someone dedicated (i.e. you're a medium size company that can afford a full time "grants-getter") then don't bother.

in comparison to the amounts being awarded to companies that don't really need it, a paltry sum (say £30k) would have paid for all our prototypes (we do the engineering ourselves and outsource the manufacture). That would have allowed us to get up and running a lot faster. As it stands we have to contract part time to keep the company going..

The government needs to sort it out otherwise we'll only have banks and digital media firms left in the UK..

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Re: not so Smart

"The government needs to sort it out otherwise we'll only have banks and digital media firms left in the UK.."

I think you'll find that's referred to as a 'long-term economic plan' under the present regime.

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Re: not so Smart

'i.e. you're a medium size company that can afford a full time "grants-getter"'

Or make being famous a full-time occupation http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/03/25/how_did_millionaire_supermodel_lily_cole_get_200000_of_taxpayers_cash/

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Re: not so Smart

"The government needs to sort it out otherwise we'll only have banks and digital media firms left in the UK..2

About half way there already...

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Re: not so Smart / grant applications

You can outsource that, there are consultants who specialize in this (national/EU-wide). There are A LOT of progammes and initiatives and what not.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: not so Smart

Horsham, stick at it, we've had 80k to develop a new magic. We're no bigger than you. Some grant applications (such as EU stuff) are pretty tortuous. TSB/IUK we found as short as possible. I dont agree with needing a full-time grants-getter, but equally I dont agree with chasing every pound of grant cash, the grant should help your business on the way.

Truth is, making a widget is a piece of p*ss. Making money from a widget ain't. Do you genuinely have a good business case for your thingy?

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Re: not so Smart / grant applications

Absolutely.

No idea why some fool downvoted your comment!

There are indeed specialists who work with companies and, in my experience, non-profits, to get grants. And they are effectively self-funding, operating on a no-win, no-fee basis. They wrote their costs into the grant.

Tax payer money hard at work, at least keeping some in a job!

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Anonymous Coward

I worked for a company that was roped in to do a website for one of these TSB projects. We got a wodge of cash, then the C*O team moved us onto another project for a year.

TSB probably came looking for their money eventually, but when I ragequit they were still swallowing the "it's hard to make a website" bull that they were being fed on a regular basis...

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Thumb Up

Good to see this on El reg

Terrible proofreading aside, it's good to see this kind of thing getting some media coverage.

In fairness to Innovate UK, if you are lucky enough to get an award from them, they are pretty supportive and easy to deal with - a far cry from the bureaucratic nightmare that was the Technology Strategy Board (TSB).

The funding criteria and awards process are truly bizarre, though. They have funded all sorts of ¡Bong! 'digital' nonsense, but seem really wary of anything vaguely industrial. The placing of the Energy Systems Catapult in the Midlands was another huge missed opportunity, especially when most of the industry and backers for it are located in the North West.

Definitely lots to complain about, but also a potential force for good. We all need to keep the pressure on...

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