Re: "it's unlikely we'll see much return from all this"
Absolutely. The UK Government's annual expenditure runs north of £500Bn. No problem whatsoever punting a couple of million at blue sky projects "because we can and it's awesome" when such projects offer international bragging rights and serve a reasonable educational purpose (e.g. Bloodhound were at Goodwood FOS this year with the REME doing lots of engineering stuff with the kids, not to mention all their outreach work to schools, etc).