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Let’s get back to preparing for the future

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Tom Verner

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Let’s get back to preparing for the future

BTTF

Roads? Where we are going, we don’t need roads.

It’s a line from the iconic film, Back to the Future as Doc takes Marty for a spin in his flying DeLorean – a car which would require some serious research and development to get off the ground in real life.

In the film Doc was giving Marty a glimpse of what the future might look like, complete with flying skateboards and endless possibilities.

As we approach the end of one of the most challenging years ever for many people, I firmly believe we are at the dawn of an exciting period, and we too can look to an exciting future.

The world can’t go back to the way it was before Covid-19 and if we are to realise our net zero carbon emissions targets, mankind is going to have to re-think our approach to everything from transport and industry through to how we build and heat our homes.

Change is coming and it’s coming fast. Will your company embrace it by investing in R&D or disappear like DeLorean’s Belfast-based factory?

To underline the UK Government’s commitment to supporting innovation, 16 local businesses are to receive a cash boost worth over £1.7m to scale up and protect themselves from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The funding, announced by Business Secretary Alok Sharma, is part of a wider £134m package across the UK to enable ingenious, clean growth projects to drive forward green innovations and technologies.

Northern Ireland firms to receive the funding include Camlin Technologies from Lisburn which removes contaminants from wastewater. It is developing a new approach for the online monitoring of siloxanes (found in plastics, coatings and sealants) to create affordable products for widespread adoption by the wastewater industry.

Belfast-based, TapSOS is a digital 999 for reporting domestic violence and abuse. With the pandemic leading to the highest levels of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland, since records began, TapSOS technology provides a discreet, non-verbal way of connecting with emergency services using a mobile phone when calling 999 isn't a safe option.

Also benefiting is Safety Net, an unmanned offshore service for coastal wind farms which is run by Offshore Survival Systems Ltd. It aims to offer the world's first offshore autonomous marine-based search and rescue service, helping to save lives at sea and build the wind farms of the future.

Elsewhere in the UK, firms benefiting from the £134million of government investment include those with projects which will see robots patrol roads to detect and repair cracks and potholes, using Artificial Intelligence to help reduce beer waste and converting seaweed into compostable packaging.

It is heartening to see the research and development work carried out by these companies begin to really pay off.

The investment forms part of the government’s commitment to support the UK’s entrepreneurs and start-ups to scale up their innovations, set out in its ambitious R&D Roadmap in July this year.

R&D Tax Credits, including the small or medium sized enterprise (SME) scheme, support businesses to invest in research and development and are a core part of the government’s support for innovation.

In March, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced a record increase in public investment in R&D – committing to reaching £22 billion per year by 2024 to 2025.

This government wants to revitalise our whole system of science, research and innovation to release its potential – to unlock and embrace talent, diversity, resilience and adaptability, and to tackle our biggest challenges, such as achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The pandemic has been the biggest disruption to our lives for a generation and with environmental obligations under scrutiny like never before, it is time to embrace the power of science, research and innovation to build a brighter future.

Not everyone will be a cheerleader for politicians but when it comes to supporting R&D the government has nailed its colours to the mast. It has also recently published draft legislation aimed at cracking down on fraudulent R&D Tax Credit claims to ensure the benefits go to those companies making legitimate claims.

What has been surprising has been the stubbornly slow response from companies to reap the benefits of their hard work.

To be fair the amount claimed in Northern Ireland has risen by 40% in the past year, up to £105million from £75million. But, when you dig down into the figures it shows that there were just 1,615 claims which is very low compared to other regions of the UK.

Currently R&D claims are concentrated within the golden triangle of London, the south east and east of England. But the government is keen to address this imbalance and this represents real opportunity for firms who put innovation at the heart of what they do.

At Momentum, we work hard to raise awareness of how a successful R&D Tax Claim can benefit your business. With cashflow a major area of concern for many business owners at present, it is worth remembering that the average value of a claim in Northern Ireland is currently £65,015.

We also recognise that looking to the future can be intimidating, especially when it can be a daily battle to stay in business in an environment where the pressures of a potential no-trade deal Brexit and a global pandemic dominate.

That is why we have launched our ‘Rebound Support Service’ which assists businesses by maximising their uptake of all available grants and R&D tax benefits offered by the UK government.

We are all in this together and at Momentum we have been offering, and will continue to offer, free claims advice to companies during these pressured times.

There is a bright future ahead, but, ‘whatever happens Marty, don’t go to 2020.’

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