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BEIS provides £10 million for regulators’ tech projects


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has awarded a total of £10 million to 15 projects led by UK regulators aimed at ensuring their work keeps pace with technological change.

It has announced the winning bids for its Regulators’ Pioneer Fund, highlighting the potential to support innovation and mobility in the public sector.

The awards include nearly £700,000 to communications regulator Ofcom to use blockchain technology to improve telephone number management, and a similar amount to the Solicitors Regulation Authority to support the use of AI in transforming the legal services market.

They have been awarded as part of the response to the four Grand Challenges in the Government’s Industrial Strategy.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “The UK’s regulatory environment is recognised as being among the best in the world and through our modern Industrial Strategy we are building a business environment in which Britain’s dreamers, developers and disruptors can continue to thrive.

“These projects will further strengthen our regulatory system and ensure that it keeps pace with the innovation and technological advances needed to power our economy now and in the future.”

The winning projects, subject to agreement of contracts, respond to individual challenges as follows:

Artificial Intelligence and data

- The Information Commissioner’s Office is creating a Regulators’ Business Privacy Innovation Hub to work in partnership with other regulators to provide expert support to businesses on ensuring information privacy and data protection. A pool of ICO experts will work with other regulators to enable innovation in sectors and develop approaches based on ‘privacy by design’.

- Ofcom will use blockchain technology to improve UK telephone number management, developing a secure sandbox environment for voice communications providers to trial porting and managing telephone numbers using blockchain. This will allow users to build interfaces, test business processes and rules, and trial security arrangements.

- Energy regulator Ofgem is setting up a Secure Data Exchange to deliver a better user experience for anyone who exchanges information with it or wishes to know what information it has available.

- Ofgem is also running an Energy Market Challenge to stimulate the development of better services for the 8 million households that are not engaged in the energy market and supplied energy through higher rate tariffs. Building on the Open Banking model, Ofgem will provide a safe environment for firms to develop and implement ideas to provide better services to customers using AI integrated money management apps, online banking apps and chatbots.

- The Intellectual Property Office will work on AI solutions to enhance the intellectual property right (IPR) online filing process. This could involve using AI powered preliminary searches for applicants filing for patents, trademarks and designs as part of the online filing process.

- The Solicitors Regulation Authority has a project for Data-Driven Innovation in Legal Services. The new SRA Innovate Testbed is an open innovation competition, created in partnership with Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, to seek out and accelerate ethical AI powered legal services. The focus will be on growing the underdeveloped legal services market for small businesses and consumers.

- The Financial Conduct Authority is to work with the Bank of England on digital regulatory reporting to improve the efficiency of the current process. They are investigating the feasibility of codifying some reporting requirements to make them machine readable and machine executable, potentially making the legal terminology used today easier for humans and machines to understand.

Ageing society

- The Care Quality Commission is supporting innovation in health and social care, exploring how it can encourage good models of innovation that maximise benefits while keeping people safe, and test out new ways of engaging with innovative providers, such as regulatory sandboxing.

- The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency is developing and applying datasets for the validation of algorithms. In partnership with NHS Digital, it will develop synthetic datasets to enable innovators to validate algorithms and artificial intelligence used in medical devices.

Clean growth

- Ofgem is setting up a Future Services Lab, working with the Energy Systems Catapult to iteratively trial and refine potential changes in the energy market. Households will be invited to participate in small trials of alternative retail models, and a cross-functional team of policy experts, service designers and researchers will constantly visit and gather feedback from these trials, rapidly iterating future plans to find the best model to roll out.

- The Scottish Environment Protection Agency is creating a Decommissioning Regulatory Hub to provide a safe, collaborative environment to develop and test new products and services in support of decommissioning. It will bring together operating companies and multiple regulators (from the oil and gas industry and the waste supply chain) to address cross-cutting areas, share best practices, create innovative solutions and manage the associated risks together.

Future of mobility

- The Maritime and Coastguard Agency is running a project named Putting Wind in the Sails of the UK Autonomous and Smart Shipping Industries. This will establish a regulatory innovation lab to pioneer new approaches to the regulatory challenges facing the smart shipping and maritime autonomous surface ship industry. It will also make marine and maritime data assets available to support innovation.

- The Civil Aviation Authority has a project named Innovation in Aviation Engagement Capability to establish a new advisory service to give innovators preliminary regulatory guidance and itself a better understanding of the innovation pipeline. It also includes building a new regulatory sandbox to allow testing of selected innovations in carefully controlled environments, and creating a regulatory lab to work with relevant organisations to develop new regulatory frameworks and policies for innovations such as flying taxis and automated systems. The CAA’s new Canary Wharf London base will also be more closely located to East London’s Tech City.

- The UK Space Agency is creating the Spaceflight Licensing Digital Gateway to ensure that the UK’s licensing regime for commercial space operations keep pace with the sector. The Government is working to develop a one-stop shop for operators to apply for spaceflight licences from both the UKSA and Civil Aviation Authority.

Industry support

The move has won support from IT industry association techUK. Its head of cloud, data, analytics and AI, Sue Daley, said: “As automation and AI technologies continue to evolve and mature, building a culture of trust, confidence and accountability in these important innovations is vital. Having well informed regulators that have the capability and capacity to understand and keep pace of how these technologies are developing and being used across industries is key to building that trust.

"The funding announced today is hugely welcome and is another element of the UK Government’s blueprint, along with the AI sector deal, creation of the Office of AI and Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, designed to ensure the UK is truly AI ready.”

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