The Pioneer Programme: a viable alternative to Horizon Europe?

April 27, 2023

On 6 April the government published its prospectus for a domestic R&D programme, called Pioneer, which would be an alternative to the EU funding scheme Horizon Europe. The Government is currently negotiating the possibility of associating to the EU’s programme, but has published this prospectus, which outlines the government's fallback option, in the event a good deal cannot be negotiated with the EU to join the existing programme.

Arriving just before the Easter break, the prospectus flew somewhat under the radar of public discourse. Cleantech for UK has looked into the details of this potential programme, to understand the options on the table for the UK’s cleantech development going forward.  

Negotiations between London and Brussels are still ongoing, with the parties working to agree on an mutually acceptable price tag for re-associating with Horizon.

The Pioneer Programme would receive the same amount of funding as the UK would have paid to associate to Horizon from2021 to 2027, had we been affiliated with the Horizon Europe Programme to do so during that period. Roughly calculated, this would mean that the Pioneer Programme would amount to around £14.6bn until the end of 2027/28, this including money already paid out under the Horizon guarantee scheme[1].

The programme would have four key pillars: talent (budget of up to £2bil), innovation (£3.5bil), global collaboration(£3.8bil), and infrastructure (£1.7bil).

[1] The ’Horizon Europe guarantee’ scheme provides funding to researchers and innovators unable to receive their Horizon Europe funding while the UK is trying to associate to the programme.

o  Health Innovations - human, animal and plant health science
o  Green Industrial Growth
o  Resilient UK – resources and national security  
o  Transformational Technologies

The innovation pillar would be made up of a small number of moonshots and rapid, agile ‘pulse’ funding to deliver shorter term research projects. The spread of funding between the moonshots and pulse funding has not been specified.

Impact on cleantech:
While the Pioneer Programme would provide multiple opportunities for cleantech researchers and developers to apply for funding, the available pot would amount to only a fraction of the sums available under Horizon Europe.  Furthermore, although Pioneer has an international pillar, the level of multilateral international collaboration, through well established, multi-country relationships enabled by the Horizon programme will be very difficult to replace.

Funding specifically to climate-related areas remains unclear. The EU has guaranteed that at least 35% of the €95.5billion available under the Horizon umbrella will go to climate change projects. At this stage, it is not clear from the Pioneer prospectus, how much of the £14.6 billion has and will go to climate change projects.

It is positive that the government has a robust alternative plan, which includes cleantech as a priority area. The government’s preference for associating to the Horizon programme remains the best outcome for the UK and the EU. While the UK should double down on its domestic support – and its funding – for cleantech scaleup, pursuing this type of funding scheme alone would not be as effective as taking a collaborative approach through the Horizon programme.