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Government seeks greater value from knowledge assets

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 17 Jun 2022

The Knowledge Assets Team wants to identify, manage and protect intangible assets across the public sector to unlock social, economic and financial benefits for us all.

HM Treasury’s Balance Sheet Review sought to improve how government manages its assets and liabilities, including improving returns on its assets, identifying opportunities to dispose of assets that no longer serve a policy purpose and reducing the cost and risk of liabilities. 

The review made the case for maximising the value of intangibles in the public sector, including intellectual property rights (IPR), research and development, technology, and data, with the report estimating that these assets could be worth as much as £150bn.

Many of these assets remain largely underexploited and the government set up a unit to manage its intangible assets more effectively – the Knowledge Assets Team. Originally set up by HM Treasury but now housed in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), its remit is to identify, protect and support the exploitation of knowledge assets to help maximise the social, economic and financial value they generate.

In April 2021, the team published the Mackintosh Report, which set out an implementation strategy to gain greater value from public sector knowledge assets as well as guidance covering the management of intangibles owned or controlled by the government and public sector bodies. This is not just about obtaining financial value for the government, for example by selling rights to use publicly-owned intangible assets or data. There is often a good case for providing free access in a way that can support economic growth, generating even greater future tax revenues than licensing might obtain.

Recent developments in using public sector knowledge assets include providing access to transport data, sharing tools created to evaluate progress on sustainability and medical advances made possible by public research institutions.

Open Data with Transport for London

Transport for London (TfL) collects large volumes of data on the usage of its interconnected networks of rail, buses, tubes and boats and created a resource, Open Data, back in 2014.

This open-source data is used by nearly 9,000 registered developers who use TfL’s unified Application Programme Interface (API) to deliver a wealth of apps, maps and resources such as the ability to track bus movements in real time.

TfL’s data was used to monitor the usage of the transport network by different user groups during the pandemic, providing an invaluable leading indicator on the health of the economy during the course of the pandemic. Understandably, this showed an almost complete drop off in usage in the first lockdown.

Business support for sustainable development 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has developed a number of data related tools to help businesses engage with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These cover a wide range of issues including gender equality, responsible consumption, and affordable and clean energy.

ONS’s SDG team has developed a methodology to look at SDG data, comparing it against a number of criteria to evaluate its robustness, timeliness and overall quality. The ONS’s open resource protocol could help businesses identify the SDGs that are of most relevance to them and evaluate to which goals they can best contribute.

New initiatives within the National Physical Laboratory

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has used funding from the Knowledge Asset Grant Fund to develop new technologies with significant health and other benefits.

One example is a thermal imaging system that NPL developed to assist with the early diagnosis of foot ulcers in diabetic patients. This pioneering work is a real breakthrough in diagnostic technology and aims, through early detection, to reduce the number of amputations that patients with diabetes unfortunately endure. The grant funding allowed the team to overcome a key regulatory hurdle in getting the first UK Conformity Assessment (UKCA) marked device approved, which will allow for an initial rollout of devices for use by clinicians.

Another development is a new application for ultrasound in the use of breast cancer screening. This technology avoids the use of harmful radiation in detecting cancers and promises safe and early diagnosis for millions of women.

A further example of publicly funded innovation is the creation of biosensors that can detect antigens, including coronavirus particles. The team at NPL recognised the potential in repurposing this to test for all manner of diseases and knowledge grant funding is being used to optimise and validate a new prototype, which should help NPL attract funding for the future.

The Knowledge Assets Team, which will be launched as the Government Office for Technology Transfer later in the year, is aiming to help government departments to develop their own strategies for managing and exploiting knowledge assets, with additional funding available from the Knowledge Asset Grant Fund. The aim is to transform in-house projects into real world commercial transactions and unlock value for the public and the public purse.

Henning Diederichs, Manager, Public Sector Financial Reporting, ICAEW, commented: “The Knowledge Assets Team is an example of how governments can manage their balance sheets better by identifying intangible assets such as tools and data, in order to unlock value on behalf of the public. All public sector bodies should be looking at the work of the Knowledge Assets Team, and talking to them where appropriate, to identify opportunities to put their intangible assets to work.”

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