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expert reaction to the Chancellor’s Spending Review

In his Spending Review the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced increased science spending on R&D, and additional funds for science focused government departments, to help them reach their goals.  

 

Prof Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said:

“The Chancellor clearly recognises just how important science and innovation are, not only for our long term economic success but also for tackling global challenges such as protecting the environment and keeping us healthy. Support for AI in the NHS, research into improving air quality, protecting biodiversity and finding new ways to help achieve net zero emissions by 2050 are all welcome.

“It is also welcome to see confirmation that the Government is standing by commitments to increase investment in R&D to at least 2.4% by 2027. Their ambition to accelerate this and significantly increase public R&D funding is also encouraging, and we look forward to further details in the autumn.    

“However, the Chancellor’s words are overshadowed by the cloud of Brexit that hangs over the UK. Continued uncertainty is damaging for the research community with threats to our workforce, our ability to collaborate internationally and funding. Until Brexit is resolved it is hard to look forward with a sense of optimism.”

 

Jo Reynolds, Director of Science and Communities at the Royal Society of Chemistry, said:

“Ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU, the Chancellor has this afternoon outlined a one-year spending plan that includes £2 billion of funding for EU exit preparations for 2020-21. The prospect of a no deal EU exit continues to threaten research and innovation in the UK, with the potential to stop valuable research and halt collaborations with partners across the EU and globally.

“As long as no-deal is still a prospect, it is vital that the government steps up and establishes a transparent, easy to access contingency fund to support the full breadth of research that is currently funded by the EU. Contingency funding for discovery research is particularly important, given that lots of this research in the UK is currently funded through EU mechanisms, like European Research Council grants.

Education funding

“This spending round also sees a significant increase for schools. That is of course welcome, though it is unclear whether this is fully covered by the departmental budget increase. We eagerly anticipated an increase in funding for 16-19 education, long underfunded compared to other stages of education. The £400m increase is a step in the right direction, but contrasts starkly with the billions pledged for schools and the more than £500 million committed to future sports events.

Within that FE funding, we need to see sciences included in the crucial courses attracting dedicated support. Technical courses in the sciences, which are currently funded at the base rate, need to receive a funding uplift to assist providers with delivery. Funding aimed at supporting T-levels should go towards extending the capital fund, so that providers beginning delivery of new subjects in 2021 – which includes Science – can call upon funding to improve their facilities.

Research funding

“Given that this is a one-year spending plan, details on longer-term announcements, including how they relate to existing budgets is yet to be seen. The lack of information on source budgets and links to existing funding pots means that it is not always clear what the overall UK offer is on the international stage. 

“Clarity on the UK’s public investment offer is vital to inspire the confidence of international investors, innovators and researchers. A digital shop window for R&D investment would position the UK as the go-to place for science.

Environmental standards

“The Chancellor also announced £432m of funding for Defra to set world-leading environmental standards. Funding is only one part of the equation to set standards that protect the environment and human health. Collaboration and sharing of evidence between scientists in the UK and their counterparts in the EU and globally is vital to achieve the goal of high environmental standards globally.

No deal not an option

“While the increases announced today are a step in the right direction, we must use this opportunity to build on them for longer-term funding plans. No amount of short-term spending can replace networks and standards built up over decades of collaborations and we reiterate that a no-deal Brexit is not an option for the chemical sciences.”

 

Dr Sarah Main, Executive Director, CaSE said:

“The Government’s promise to significantly increase public investment in R&D is good news. CaSE’s members have told us that leadership and long-term R&D investment from Government enables them to plan for the future and gives industry the confidence to keep on investing in research and innovation. The Government’s re-commitment to the 2027 R&D investment target today provides reassurance. Delivery of the promised investment plan in the autumn will turn that reassurance in to confidence.”

“Public money can be used to capitalise on the unique strength of UK science, delivering the benefits of discovery to people more quickly, growing the capacity and breadth of UK science, and attracting international partners and business investment.” 

 

Declared interests

The nature of this story means everyone quoted above could be perceived to have a stake in it.  So our policy is not to ask for interests to be declared, instead they are implicit in each person’s affiliation.

 

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