The UK government’s network of “Catapult” innovation and technology agencies – which fall under its under the R&D spending umbrella – show poor governance and dubious value for money, a report by Ernst and Young has concluded.

Three of the seven catapults have been put in the Last Chance Saloon – funding should be halted if they can’t “prove confidence” with a clear new plan.

The report suggests the manufacturing and biotech catapults have had a positive economic impact. But the others? Not so much.

“With the Catapult network’s overall lack of a clearly articulated set of objectives, or a framework for measuring impact, and the current level of operational performance, it is unlikely that the impact of the network overall has been significant so far.

“Hence our view, taking in to account everything we have seen, is that, to date, the Catapult network is unlikely to have provided the benefits and value for money envisaged at the outset,” a new report concludes.

The agencies, which are formally private sector “independent research and technology organisations” but hoover up public money via Innovate UK, were intended to remedy the UK’s poor record for turning discovery and innovation into businesses and markets.

“Implementation of the Catapult concept has been inconsistent and could have had a significantly greater impact in delivering innovation, economic benefits and value for money that would have been more consistent with the benefits envisaged when the concept was initiated,” the report for the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy concludes.

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Three catapults were put on the naughty step. The “Transport Systems”, “Future Cities” and “Digital” Catapults need to draw up new plans to justify their existence, urgently, or face the axe.

Seven Catapults were created in the Cameron Era: seven centres under the High Value Manufacturing (HMVC) Catapult; the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult; the Satellite Applications Catapult; Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult; and the (vaguer) Digital Catapult, “Future Cities” Catapult and the Transport Systems Catapults. One Catapult (Precision Medicine) has since ceased to be, and now only makes a twangy wet sound, but three more are planned: Energy Systems, Medicine Discovery and Compound Semiconductor Applications.

The peculiar governance arrangement doesn’t help, the report finds. Innovate UK – the operating name of the Technology Strategy Board, an arms’-length body that falls under the Department for Business – can’t sit on Catapult boards or recommend appointments. “There are private and public sector clashes eg when Catapults are asked to deliver for Government, report on performance, and comply with government accounting rules”.

The report is here (PDF). ®