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August 3, 2023

Senior UK chip industry figures join government’s first Semiconductor Advisory Panel

The group of industry experts will advise government on how the sector can develop in the coming years.

By Matthew Gooding

The UK government has convened a group of chip industry bigwigs to advise on the development of the country’s semiconductor industry. The new Semiconductor Advisory Panel will meet for the first time today.

The UK government’s first semiconductor industry advisory panel will meet today. (Photo by raigvi/Shutterstock)

It has been formed following the publication of the government’s much-delayed semiconductor industry strategy, which sets out a blueprint for how the industry in the UK should develop.

Who is on the government’s Semiconductor Advisory Panel?

Co-chaired by Technology Minister Paul Scully and Dr Jalal Bagherli, chief executive of Dialog Semiconductor, the panel also feature Richard Grisenthwaite, chief architect at chip design giant Arm, and Eben Upton, founder and CEO of Raspberry Pi, which makes and sells low-cost, single board computers.

Other members of the panel include Americo Lemos, CEO of chipmaker IQE, and Rae Hyndman, managing director of Clas-SiC Wafer Fab in Scotland.

Conspicuous by their absence are representatives of Nexperia, the Chinese-owned Dutch company that operates the UK’s largest semiconductor production facility, Newport Wafer Fab, as well as another chip factory near Manchester. The government ordered Nexperia to sell Newport Wafer Fab last year on national security grounds due to its links to Beijing.

The government hopes the panel will provide it with advice and feedback on how it can support companies involved in the delivery of semiconductor products and ensure critical British industries have safe and steady access to the chips they need to drive innovation and grow the economy.

Future meetings will focus on how to nurture skills, improve access to finance, and develop stronger international collaboration, setting out how the industry can work directly with the government to achieve these goals, a statement from the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) said.

Scully said: “Properly engaging and listening to the experts at the heart of researching, designing and producing semiconductors is essential if we’re serious about growing our domestic sector, protecting our national security, and unleashing rapid innovation across the British economy.

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“The Semiconductor Advisory Panel serves as the perfect way for industry and government to work together closely on this critical industry so that we can deliver on our Semiconductor Strategy.”

Arm is set to IPO on the US-based Nasdaq market in the coming months, but Grisenthwaite said the company is “proud” to retain its headquarters in Cambridge, where the company was founded. “I look forward to serving on the Semiconductor Advisory Panel to ensure the UK has a strong place in the extraordinarily globalised semiconductor industry,” he said. “We will focus on developing the UK’s already considerable strengths while working with like-minded nations to ensure resilient supply chains.”

Can the UK government deliver on its semiconductor strategy?

Governments around the world have been focused on the semiconductor industry since the global chip shortage of 2021, which left many industries without access to key components and exposed weaknesses in supply chains.

But while ministers in the US, Europe and Japan have pumped billions into subsidy schemes for chip manufacturing to try and bolster national capacity, the UK has decided to focus on its core strengths in chip design and R&D, as well as compound semiconductors made by combining silicon and other materials, such as GaN.

The national semiconductor strategy, released in May, two years later than planned, outlined measures to support these areas and build a pipeline of talented engineers. It promises a £1bn investment in the industry over ten years, a minuscule sum compared with those being thrown around elsewhere. The EU, for example, has committed €43bn to its chips act.

While some in the industry hailed the strategy as a pragmatic step forward, others fear the lack of focus on manufacturing will leave UK businesses exposed should another shortage occur.

Speaking to Tech Monitor in May, Dr Elizabeth Stephens, founder and managing director of Geopolitical Risk Advisory, described the strategy as “prudent, given the vast sums of money required to develop fabs”. But, she warned, it will “leave the country exposed in the event of future disruption to the supply chain”.

Stephens said: “In the event of future disruption of Asian semiconductor supply chains, the UK will run out very quickly and, as we are no longer a member of the EU, we will be unable to rely on our European counterparts for support.”

The Semiconductor Advisory Panel is one of the measures to help the industry outlined in the strategy. Another is the UK’s first semiconductor design incubator, which has launched today. It will give early-stage semiconductor companies in the UK the technical and business support they need to bring new products to the market, DSIT said. More details can be found on the Silicon Catalyst website.

Read more: Rishi Sunak inks deal with Japan on chips and cybersecurity

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