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expert reaction to George Osborne’s Spending Review

George Osborne has outlined plans for government spending up to 2016 in his Spending Review to MPs.

 

Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology, said:

“We welcome the Chancellor’s clear recognition that strength in science and innovation is vital for the country, and that the UK excels in these fields. We welcome the much needed increase in the capital spending, but the repeated allocation of the resource budget at 2010 levels for another year adds real risk and difficulty. For science to continue to contribute it is essential that the effective cuts imposed by this frozen resource budget are remedied at the very next opportunity and at the latest by the first budget after the election.

“The challenge is of dealing with real year on year erosion of the budget through inflation is an increasingly difficult task. We simply cannot afford to lose talented people and research momentum from the science sector.

“The UK receives a sizeable chunk of funding from global R & D budgets, and to sustain this we must send out the message that we’re determined to maintain our leading position.”

 

Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said:

“I am pleased the Government has chosen to sustain its investment in the science budget and reverse cuts to science infrastructure. The UK is a world leader in science, attracting the brightest and best researchers and continued funding will allow us to maintain first rate research facilities and train the scientists of tomorrow. Looking to the future, it is important the Government continues to support the Life Sciences industry to spur economic growth in the UK.”

 

Dr Sarah Main, Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering:

“The Chancellor has claimed that he is ‘up for the challenge of making the UK the best place in the world to do science’.   In order to achieve this ambitious goal, we urge the government to set an upward trajectory for long-term investment in UK science and engineering for the next Spending Review. ‘Flat cash’ will not be enough.

“We are, of course, gladdened that the government has made huge efforts to protect science in the face of deep departmental cuts across the Board.  This sends a positive signal to the rest of the world and will benefit our ability to capitalise on inward investment in science and engineering.

“However, the Chancellor’s commitments today pale in comparison to those made by leaders of our partner nations who are also are investing heavily in science and research for economic growth.  We have the advantage of a world-leading research base that is efficient and productive.  However, with diminishing resources of flat cash funding eroded by inflation, we risk our position in the global ‘premier league’ of scientific nations.  This risk is not simply one of pride in our identity as an innovative nation, but is of real economic cost in losing the ‘spillover’ benefits of competing with the big guns. ‘Premier league’ membership brings disproportionate benefits to the economic success of members through the benefits of reputation, scale, catalysis of ideas, flow of skilled people into business and absorptive capacity of companies – much like promotion to the football Premier League brings financial as well as reputational reward.

“The Chancellor’s announcement of additional capital is welcome.  However, anyone who has been frustrated by working in a lab where new equipment falls into disuse due to lack of maintenance or upgrades will know the pitfalls of capital investment without investment in staff and running costs.  With a flat-cash science budget, research organisations will find it increasingly hard to find the money to maintain their new equipment.  To make the most efficient use of additional capital, the government must ensure that it is supported by parallel investment streams for recurrent costs.  We urge the government to act on the recommendations of the House of Lords inquiry into scientific infrastructure.

“The government’s investment in UK science and research is far broader and greater than the ring-fenced science budget held by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.  Today a number of research-intensive departments saw deep cuts to their departmental budgets.  We wait for further announcement on how departmental spend on R&D will be affected by these cuts in, for example, transport, defence, environment and energy.  And we urge the government to take a strategic overview of the impact of funding decisions across all departments on the health of science and engineering in the UK.

“We applaud the Chancellor’s ambition for science and engineering.  And we hope that he will be able to make the required step-change in investment to see his ambition to fruition.”

 

Mia Rosenblatt, Head of Policy and Campaigns, Breast Cancer Campaign said:

“We are delighted that the Chancellor responded directly to our campaign in his speech to Parliament today on the 2015-16 Spending Round, committing to continue to back the Charity Research Support Fund and make it easier for charities to benefit from Gift Aid. 

“The announcement by the Chancellor today is thanks to the thousands of campaigners who spoke up for research and is in recognition of how vital research is to beat breast cancer and other life-threatening diseases and ultimately save lives.

“We look forward to hearing more of the detail in relation to the Charity Research Support Fund and Gift Aid and will also be looking at what the full impact of the spending round is on health and research over the coming weeks and months.” 

 

Spokesperson for Research Councils UK (RCUK), said:

“The Research Councils have today noted the announcement of the allocations to the Science and Research Budget for 2015/16 financial year. We appreciate the landscape of fiscal constraint that provides the context for these allocations and understand that the spending review has again seen significant cuts to public spending across the board.

“In announcing the allocations the Chancellor, George Osborne, highlighted the vital contribution that science and research makes to UK growth. We welcome the commitment to government investment that he outlined, including the increase to £1.1bn in capital investment for science and research. Investment in the Science and Research budget ensures that the UK research base can continue to contribute positively to the future prosperity and wellbeing of the UK. The settlement for 2015/16 will nonetheless present continued challenges to the research community who have already seen very real reductions to research investment over the current spending review period.

“The Research Councils will continue to work closely with BIS to develop their delivery plans for 2015/16. At this time, we can not speculate on the allocation that will be made to individual Councils or the impact upon specific disciplines.”

 

Prof Lesley Yellowlees, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said:

“The Chancellor was right when he said investment in science is investment in our future. Britain’s world-leading science is central to creating growth and jobs.

“We are very pleased that the government has heeded the science community’s calls by protecting the science resource budget in cash terms and returning capital investment to 2010 levels, protected in real terms to 2020. The Chancellor’s long-term vision is to be applauded.

“But we need to see more comprehensive forward-thinking if we really want Britain to stay ahead in the global economic race. Over past decades our government’s investment in research and development has slid towards the bottom of the international rankings – out of our G8 competitors, only Italy spends less as a proportion of GDP.

“A commitment from all sides of the debate to raise total government investment in science to the EU average of 0.7% of GDP, by the end of the next Parliament, would set Britain on the path for science-fuelled growth.”

 

Sharmila Nebhrajani, Chief Executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities said:

“George Osborne has shown himself to be the true partner of patients by investing in science. The public make medical research their number one charitable cause and the government’s commitment to partner their generous donations through the Charity Research Support Fund has added 25p to every charity pound invested in universities.

“We agree with the Chancellor that medical education and research are working well where they are and are pleased to see his commitment to keep them within BIS.”

 

Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, said:

“Last year the chancellor came to the Royal Society and gave a speech that put science and innovation at the heart of long term sustainable economic growth.  He was asked to provide the money to back that up and today he has done that.

“There is a growing consensus across parliament and in the business community that spending on science is an investment in the future.   The Government has protected its contribution and we now need to find ways to encourage greater commitment from industry, which is still under investing in research.

“In recent years science has suffered, as maintaining investment means a real terms cut due to inflation, but in the context of cuts elsewhere, science has been relatively protected.  Today’s announcement should be seen as a foundation for a long term strategy of increased investment.  At present our economic competitors are outspending us in science but are not outperforming us.  If we want to stay ahead and build on our competitive advantage we need to not only match the investment of other countries but to surpass it.”

 

Sir John Parker GBE FREng, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“I am encouraged that the Chancellor has decided to maintain the current level of public investment in science, engineering and technology through today’s spending review. Maintaining support for Britain’s great university research base is essential for strong and sustained economic growth. But above all we need to harvest its output – that means continued investment and involvement by the engineering companies that turn the fruits of scientific and engineering research into innovative products and services capable of being marketed.

“We in the Academy have been strongly articulating the need for a modern industrial strategy to establish a framework for economic growth. We are greatly encouraged that government is now taking this agenda forward.”

 

Prof Martin Adams, President, Society for Applied Microbiology, said:

“When you look at the broader picture, Science has been relatively well supported in this spending review, which is good news. However, the real terms cut in funding is worrying; microbes present the world with significant challenges and opportunities over the next few decades and there is a great deal of work still to be done.

“Without a real terms increase in science funding, an increasing number of important research areas will be competing for what is an effectively smaller pot. What we really need is an increase in public funding to help prevent the looming health catastrophe that is antibiotic resistance; to ensure food security; and to promote sustainable energy, pharmaceuticals production, and non-oil-based manufacturing.

“For example, support for pre-commercial research in universities and research institutes means the antibiotics of the future may become available just in time. Without sufficient support, we face a regression in healthcare to a time when common infections killed.”

 

Prof Sir John Tooke, President of The Academy of Medical Sciences, said:

“The Academy of Medical Sciences welcomes the Government’s sustained funding of the research base via the science ring fence, and preservation of the research ecosystem in a difficult spending round.

“It is vital to maintain the capacity of our medical research ecosystem to keep pace with other leading scientific nations and to ensure the UK is at the forefront of innovations in healthcare technology and delivery.

“To truly reap the rewards that medical research can bring to the economy, we must all build on this investment to ensure a stable framework for research, innovation and skills in the future.”

 

Steve Bates, BioIndustry Association (BIA) Chief Executive Officer, said:

“The BioIndustry Association (BIA) applauds the Chancellor’s announcement in the Spending Review 2015-16 to provide additional resource funding of £185 million for the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) to support innovation, including Catapult Centres and the Biomedical Catalyst.

“The BIA is delighted that the government will continue to support the Biomedical Catalyst, one of the key measures in its Strategy for UK Life Sciences, which has been warmly received across the sector.

“I am meeting with the TSB next week to understand the details of how this funding will be scheduled and allocated.

“The BIA is also pleased to see that government will maintain resource funding for science in cash terms at £4.6 billion in 2015-16 and increase science capital funding in real terms from £0.6 billion in 2012-13 to £1.1 billion in 2015-16, and in line with inflation to 2016-17.”

 

Professor Sir Peter Knight, President of the Institute of Physics (IOP), said:

“We’re delighted to hear of the £1.1bn increase in capital funding available for science.  This is excellent news for the whole science community and we look forward to hearing how the investment will be used to meet the needs of our world-leading research teams when greater detail is given. 

“The announcement that the current science budget will be maintained at £4.6 billion is a welcome recognition of the importance of science as an engine for future growth, but it needs to be noted that inflation has already substantially eroded the value of funding for science in the UK, by 2-3% per annum since 2010’s flat cash settlement.

“We hope that the subsequent settlement between research councils is able to take account of the needs of different research communities and provide our scientists with the resources they need to maintain their world-leading position.

“The additional £185m for the Technology Strategy Board is also very encouraging.  This investment will promote innovation, bringing academics and businesses together around the opportunities that science creates. 

“On education, significant headway has been made in the last few years on the biggest problem facing science education in England – the shortage of specialist physics teachers.

“Tens of thousands of students each year are deprived of their entitlement to a proper physics education because there are too few inspirational physics teachers. 

“Over the past few years, through projects like the Stimulating Physics Network and IOP Teacher Training Scholarships – both funded by the Department for Education and managed by the Institute – we have plugged that gap and started to see the number of trainee physics teachers increase. 

“The permanent solution, however, is going to take at least a decade to deliver.  We hope the Government has the long-term vision to continue investment in these successful projects.”

 

Dr Ted Bianco, Acting Director of the Wellcome Trust, said:

“In a difficult Spending Round, at a time of great economic challenge, we congratulate the Chancellor on maintaining investment in science and research.  We are particularly pleased to see long-term commitment to provide more stable capital funding for science and we welcome the recognition of the importance of the Charity Research Support Fund.”

“As the Chancellor commented in his speech, the UK delivers globally competitive medical research and education exceptionally well. It is excellent news that medical research and training will remain as part of the Department of Business Innovation and Skills.”

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