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Ambition’s limits

The Pioneer programme is still very much a plan B

For well over a year, the government has promised a “bold, ambitious alternative” should the UK fail to secure membership of Horizon Europe, the EU’s €95.5 billion (£84bn) research and innovation programme. That semi-mythical ‘plan B’ has now been fleshed out as the Pioneer programme. So how does it measure up?

The clearest, and quickest, answer lies in how heavily ministers are underscoring that, despite the plan’s publication, association to Horizon Europe remains their first choice. The decision to reveal plan B’s detail mostly reflects officials’ concern over the cost of joining Horizon two years after it started, with the level of contribution the UK would make still under negotiation. UK participation, currently supported by domestic backstop funding, is also apparently flagging compared with the predecessor Horizon 2020 scheme, raising questions over cost benefit.

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