back to article UK's ARIA innovation body 'hasn't even begun to happen' says former research lead

The UK's efforts to copy US government and military innovation outfit DARPA are stalling, according to a leading figure in research and development. Appearing before the Science and Technology Committee, Sir John Kingman, former chair of UK Research and Innovation, told MPs this morning that ARIA – the Advanced Research and …

  1. Mike 137 Silver badge


    ARIA: 'Officially it is 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."'

    DARPA: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - "responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military"

    Personally, I can't see much similarity here. In fact one might perceive a total antithesis, depending on whose side you're on.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: ARIA v. DARPA

      I thought we had a world class military research agency staffed with first class boffins who invented stuff from growing semiconductor crystals to LCD displays - and it was then privatised so that Thatcher's mates could get richthey could use their knowledge for the general economy

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ARIA v. DARPA

        Thatcher's mates were trying to get rich by privatising it in 2001? Blair was PM in 2001 with a humongous majority so it was his mates getting rich.

        Sorry, did you think one lot of politicians were better than another just because they said they were?

        If you haven't figured it out yet, pretty much all politicians buy support for what they want to do with your tax money and then lie about it. As a general rule, the louder a politician screams about corruption, the more skeletons they have in the closet.

      2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: ARIA v. DARPA

        I thought we had a world class military research agency staffed with first class boffins who invented stuff from growing semiconductor crystals to LCD displays

        We did, I used to work for a bit of it (RRE/RSRE) back in the early 70s, and had tea breaks with the LCD bods who worked on the floor below mine. Given that it was technically an MoD establishment(*) we did a hell of a lot of civilian research in those days.

        it was then privatised

        As pointed out, by the Blair administration. God knows what they were thinking of.

        (*) Thus had all walls painted in surplus battleship paint.

    2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: ARIA v. DARPA

      Facebook started the same day this project got cancelled DARPA LifeLog

  2. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse


    Well, notwithstanding the fact that a certain pandemic has probably distracted a few people, what did he expect from a Government that is only really concerned with producing short-term meaningless soundbites that are only produced to try to put out the fires on whatever the issue du jour is as raised in the daily press...

    Long term strategy or policy commitments? Yes, the Tories heard of them once.

  3. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Where does ARIA sit?

    Is ARIA meant to complement the Research Councils, Universities, and other privately and publicly funded research bodies, or take over some of them? Or is meant to just 'do its own thing' with people whose applications for funding to those other bodies have been declined?

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: with people whose applications for funding [... had already] been declined

      I'm not sure there's any reason why you might not apply to ARIA first, if it seemed a better fit to the project.

      Your first point is a good one, though. I presume the idea is that it works independently, i.e. essentially in parallel.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where does ARIA sit?

      I'm trying to figure out the resonance with the ARIA I know of.

      Is it to increase 'accessibility' to £100s millions for BJs friends?

      Or is it to provide easier 'employment' for the blind, deaf and/or hard-of-thinking?

      Or is it the happy conjunction of these?

  4. @JagPatel3

    The Ministry of Defence may have achieved herd stupidity

    To realise its vision of becoming a science and technology superpower, the government has announced the launch of a new research agency that will fund high-risk, high-reward science projects with a directive to permit a much higher level of tolerance for failure than is normal – recognising that in research, the freedom to fail is often also the freedom to succeed.

    The agency – christened ARIA, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, provided with a budget of £800 million over five years, will have the freedom to experiment with funding models and spend taxpayers’ cash on basic science and cutting-edge technologies without requiring prior approval from the political or administrative elite. It is the brainchild of the former chief adviser to the Prime Minister, Dominic Cummings, who modelled it on the highly successful cold-war era US research agency DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

    But whereas the American DARPA was given an explicit defence brief and set-up within the Department of Defense with a mandate to contribute towards the technological superiority of US Armed Forces, no such requirement has been imposed upon the British ARIA. What’s more, ARIA has been established within the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department with an instruction to focus on the advancement of civilian research.

    There is a good reason why the Ministry of Defence has been frozen out of any prominent role in the research activities of ARIA – it simply hasn’t got any intelligent or competent people within its ranks to make a difference. Indeed, MoD may very well have achieved herd stupidity.

    Consider the evidence.

    The clear message behind the government’s defence procurement policy is that equipment for the Armed Forces is to be purchased through fair and open competition – the only exceptions being off-the-shelf purchases and single-source development contracts, the latter to be handed out on a preferential basis (to the Select Few).

    Indeed, the government confirms this stance in its Defence Industrial Policy* by saying:

    “We strive to provide our Armed Forces with the capabilities they need at the best value for money, obtaining this through open competition in the global market, wherever possible. Competitive tension is the greatest driver for innovation, productivity and earning power in any economy.”

    The government intends to achieve this by selecting the single, preferred prime contractor from a choice of industry teams by running a multiple-phase, winner-takes-all competition on the basis of a level playing field genuinely open to all-comers, including non-domiciled suppliers – to ensure it gets the very best value for money for the taxpayer.

    However, “sudden death” competition (which abruptly reduces the field of bidders from six to one following a one-off release of the invitation to tender) currently used by MoD, has been rendered ineffective by defence contractors who are quoting identical bottom-line selling prices against the same requirement – which amounts to price-fixing on a grand scale, with the active connivance of the Secretary of State for Defence.

    This is completely at odds with protecting MoD’s commercial interests, which is what Ministers are so fond of telling the public. Worse still, MoD’s Project Team Leader located at its arms-length procurement organisation in Bristol is being denied the opportunity to choose the single prime contractor on the basis of price competitiveness, and therefore value for money.

    This farcical situation has come about because MoD’s longstanding policy of disclosing the total budgeted expenditure figure or associated year-on-year financial funding profile in the ITT has resulted in defence contractors quoting identical bottom-line selling prices in their ITT responses – an entirely predictable result!

    How stupid can you get?

    Even the then Comptroller and Auditor General came around to accepting the view that it is not clever to reveal what the government is going to spend on a particular programme, right at the outset, because in so doing, it loses a lot of negotiating leverage with the people it might contract with.**

    Sir Amyas Morse, who completed 10 years as C&AG, had a ringside view of the inner workings of government and is therefore extremely well-qualified to comment on central government contracting practices.

    It is not for MoD to tell the private sector what the price of a new equipment programme should be. Instead, it is very much the business of defence contractors to tell MoD how much each new equipment programme will cost, based upon the prevailing value of goods, services, labour and finance in the free market shaped, not by the interfering hand of people in the pay of the State who always get it wrong, but by competitive market forces driven by the profit motive and winning mindset.

    There is not a single person at the MoD who has the guts or wherewithal to call out the stupidity of such practices which have been going on for decades.

    It would explain why the MoD has failed so miserably to deliver equipment to the Armed Forces which is fit for purpose, adequately sustained in-service and constitutes value for money through-life for as long as anyone can remember.


    * Defence Industrial Policy document, Industry for Defence and a Prosperous Britain: Refreshing Defence Industrial Policy, published December 2017, p.23, PDF file (1.28 MB).

    ** See answer to Q50, oral evidence from Sir Amyas Morse before the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Inquiry into The Government’s Management of Major Projects, HC 1631, 6 November 2018.

    1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: The Ministry of Defence may have achieved herd stupidity

      Wow that was long.

      "... denied the opportunity to choose the single prime contractor on the basis of price competitiveness, and therefore value for money."

      Even if the money denominator is identical, it's still possible to rank bids based on the value numerator. Takes work though.

  5. elsergiovolador Silver badge


    Make no mistake, this government will be creating such projects as a deception, to make people, who only read headlines, believe that they are actually doing something good for the country.

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I'd have thought Sir John has been around long enough to know policy statements are for making, not acting on.

  7. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Speaking as one does with the benefit of experience in the field .......

    Public elected representatives lifting government benefits ..... essentially a glorified dole from/for Westminster Parliamentarians....... are the problem in such cases as require future unprecedented leadership for whenever they cannot understand what may be proposed to them or they maybe do understand that they will not have effective command and practical control over what is proposed to them for admirable public funding, is required leadership missing in action and rightly to be presumed as dead as a dodo.

    And such as may be missed by them for generous research and development funding quite naturally migrates to parties elsewhere with foreign enemies and alien forces, whenever allies are also not to be tempted to take a chance on what they all profess ARIA be specifically designed for.

    That in my book tends to suggest they be no more than parasitic muppets and puppets thinking to be in charge of what is no more than a failed state machine. A harsh critique indeed but nevertheless a worthy descriptor of the problem as it relates to Great Game Changing Novelties/AWEsome Facilities.

  8. Claverhouse Silver badge


    Any new Agency from Government is stalled until a designated leader to inspire can be nominated who is:

    I/ Charismatic

    II/ Exudes confidence, expertise, and experience

    III/ Is a friend of the prime minister.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Basics

      I take only one of these is required.

  9. Antony Shepherd

    Wasn't this one of Cummings' ideas? If so no wonder it's been left to rot.

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