Further cuts in overall government spending have been heralded in the Spending Review and departments such as Business, Innovation and Skills being asked to model 25% and 40% cuts. What might this mean for UK science and engineering? These Roundup comments accompanied a briefing.
Prof. Brian Cox, Royal Society Professor for Public Engagement and Professor of Particle Physics at University of Manchester, said:
“I find it inconceivable that the science budget will not be increased as part of a clear strategy aimed at closing the widening investment gap to The USA, France, Germany and all other knowledge-based economies. It is inconceivable because every study, every report, every piece of evidence points to a simple conclusion: Investment in the science base leads directly to increased productivity and increased economic growth over relatively short timescales. It will be nothing short of a national disaster if further damage is done to the already creaking foundations of our knowledge-based economy. The converse is also true: A clear economic commitment to science will deliver a genuine sense of optimism, and send a powerful signal to the world that the UK intends to be the best place in the world to do science and engineering, and the best place in the world for high-technology, knowledge based industries and manufacturing to do business. I think this could be a transformative moment, laying the foundations for the government’s aim to make the UK the most prosperous country in the world by 2030.”
Prof. Nigel Brown, President, Microbiology Society, said:
“Antibiotic resistance, food security and climate change are global challenges that require strong scientific input. British microbiologists are at the forefront of research to address these problems; we need to back them, and all of our scientists, with sufficient resources to let them do their jobs. An investment in British Science is an investment in our health, our economy and our long-term future.”
Prof. David Webb, President-Elect, British Pharmacological Society, said:
“It is clear that any decision made by the Government during the Spending Review, apart from a real-term increase in the science budget, would be a false economy: economic analysis shows that for every £1 spent by the Government on scientific research and development, private sector output grows by 20p per year, in perpetuity. Government investment ensures that the UK can retain and develop world-class talent in drug discovery and development that is able to turn today’s science into tomorrow’s medicines. I hope the Spending Review will acknowledge the value of science conducted across all government departments. Additionally, clinical pharmacologists working within universities undertake crucial research on the safe, effective, and economic use of medicines, which has been shown to result in a £10 saving for every £1 of investment.”
Prof. John Hardy, Professor of Neuroscience, University College London, said:
“Those who think scientists should not indulge in special pleading should think, where would we be without it?”
Emma Greenwood, Head of Policy, Cancer Research UK, said:
“The Government must protect the science budget in the spending review so that we continue to make progress in the face of the medical challenges of the 21st century. The UK has a remarkable record for delivering breakthroughs in treating disease. It really is investment in research today that will find the cures for patients in the future. Research is essential to see Cancer Research UK’s ambition to increase the number of people surviving cancer from two in four today, to three in four in the future, become a reality.
“Government investment is critical for creating a supportive environment for research in the UK. The Government provides vital infrastructure needed for research to take place in UK universities and hospitals and supports the training of our scientists and clinicians.”
Steve Bates, Chief Executive, BioIndustry Association, said:
“Life sciences are a growing industry of the 21st century. The UK has a global competitive advantage because of our long term world leading science base. The government should maintain science and research investment in real terms to allow the UK to maintain our global competitive edge. It’s vital not just to invest in science but ensure that that science is developed enough to make it investable for the private sector – as our international competitors like the USA and Singapore do. Here schemes like the Biomedical Catalyst are vital. It has leveraged over £100m of additional private capital into excellent UK science SMEs by effectively de-risking it.”
Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive, British Heart Foundation, said:
“Every year, heart disease causes sudden, unexpected devastation for tens of thousands of families in the UK. Research is a vital tool in our fight against heart disease, improving our understanding of disease and helping us to prevent, diagnose and treat conditions more effectively. The British Heart Foundation funds around £100 million of new research each year but we cannot tackle heart disease alone. Progress is only possible when the UK Government, industry and not-for-profit organisations all come together to support research. If we are to build on our progress over the last fifty years, the UK Government must maintain its investment in UK science.”
Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive, Royal Society of Biology, said:
“It is critically important that the Government increases investment in research and the associated skills base to secure the best future for people and the economy. Past investment and focus has made the UK a global leader in science, with huge strength in the biosciences. We all benefit from this excellence which took decades to build but is vulnerable after half a decade of reducing expenditure and reduced investment. We know that the Government recognises the importance of science, so it is critical that it acts on this knowledge and invests now to ensure real research growth and to send a clear message to bright minds and private investors that the UK still remains the best place for them to do research.”
“Public investment in science generates new jobs and economic growth year on year beyond the initial investment. Five years of failing to increase research expenditure to at least match inflation has wiped £1bn off the core research budget. When coupled with the often forgotten major cuts to the research spend of each Government Department, the underinvestment in UK science will inevitably lead to an erosion of our world renowned capability and output unless investment starts to grow again now.”
Prof. Sir John Tooke, President, Academy of Medical Sciences, said:
“We urge the Government to appreciate that short-term cuts to research investment and capacity represent a false economy at a time when research and innovation are more critical than ever. For the medical sciences, funding reductions would threaten the UK’s ability to provide an innovative, effective and affordable health system in the face of increased demand.
“Sustained investment in biomedical research is essential to tackle many current and future health challenges, particularly rising levels of diabetes and obesity, the threat of emerging infections and the ability to deal with an ageing population. Without adequate support the sector will be unable to train and retain the highly skilled workforce needed to address these challenges.
“Public funding for research plays a central role in providing stability and confidence across the broader funding landscape. Even if lost funding is later reinstated, the damage to the UK’s world-leading research base is likely to be entrenched, and may be irreversible. At a time of ever-increasing need for innovative solutions, we urge the Government to back its rhetoric with resource and capitalise on this opportunity to invest for the future of the UK.”
Dr Jenny Rohn, Chair of Science is Vital, said:
“Scientists have been worried about the declining research budget for some time now. But in the face of these alarming new threatened cuts, the time has come for people all over the UK – not just scientists – to raise their voices and remind the government that science is vital – for all of us.”
Prof. Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at University College London, said:
“The high status of UK science critically depends on the support of blue skies research. It is the one sure advantage of the UK over its competitors. For example, if the MRC hadn’t funded the work done by me and my colleagues, there would have been much slower progress in understanding the nature of autism and dyslexia. We’d probably still blame the parents.”
Prof. Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of theoretical physics at the University of Surrey, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific, said:
“To think that the UK can maintain its current position as a world leader in science while the percentage the government spends on R&D continues to drop is ludicrous. We are moving in the opposite direction to the rest of the world. It is during times of economic austerity that we need to invest more in science, not less. Every other country in the developed world understands this. Let’s not be left behind.”
Prof. Stephen Curry, Vice-chair of Science is Vital and Professor of structural biology at Imperial College, London, said:
“It hardly seems credible that, as the UK is pulling out of recession, the government is asking the research councils to contemplate deep spending cuts. Cutting research funding will reduce our ability to create the knowledge that is the seed-corn for the technologies needed to face the challenges posed by climate change, emerging infectious diseases, our food supply, and the care of an aging population.”
Mat Hutchings, a researcher at the University of East Anglia, said:
“I’m a scientist trying to find new antibiotics in unusual ecological niches. I run a research lab of 10 scientists as well as teaching full time and acting as Associate Dean for Enterprise. I work long hours doing a job I love and spend the rest of my time with my young family. I believe passionately in UK science and its ability to transform lives. It’s almost impossible to get a research grant and if you cut funding further it will drive us all to Germany or the US. I know you understand the value of science so please don’t destroy the amazing research in this country.”
Tom Hartley, a researcher at the University of York, said:
“If Britain is not leading the world in science, technology and engineering, then we are condemning our country to fall behind [other industrialised economies].” Your own words in Budget 2014. Science is vital. I am working on a new test to help diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease earlier and cheaply. It could save the NHS money, help with the development of new treatments and improve life for so many older people. Such rewards can come only if you invest in science. Please increase research funding as a proportion of GDP – you know it makes sense – you told us yourself.”
Professor Stephen Busby, Chair of the Biochemical Society, said:
“UK molecular bioscience has made an amazing contribution to the UK economy over the past 50 years in various fields, but there is much more to come as the DNA sequence revolution opens the gates to personalised medicine. Hence the business case for further investment is overwhelming and it would be short sighted to reduce investment at this stage.
£1 billion real-term shortfall in investment in the UK research base has accumulated over the last 5 years and an increase in investment is needed to reverse it. This shortfall will be over £2.3 billion by the 2020 general election if current government spending policy continues. Having the lowest GDP spending on science among the G8 nations and being threatened with further cuts poses a real challenge to the UK as a world leader in science.
We urge the Government to realise the value of the UK science sector and provide it with sustainable financial support so that we make the best out of the talent in the UK and remain a world leader in science.”
On this occasion the SMC has not asked for declarations of interests as we consider everyone to be an interested party.