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expert reaction to the UK Government’s Spending Review for 2020, as announced today by Rishi Sunak

In a speech today, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced the UK Government’s Spending Review for 2020.


Venki Ramakrishnan, President, Royal Society, said:

“These are difficult times and it is understandable that much of the Chancellor’s focus is on the here and now. However, a long-term plan for investing in research will underpin ‘building back better’, building for the industries and jobs of the future and improving people’s lives. Today’s announcement of nearly £15b of investment in R&D next year and a multi-year settlement for basic science, reinforces the Government’s vision of a future built on research and innovation. It is a significant step towards the Government’s commitment to more than doubling public investment in research by 2025.

“This long-term commitment to research should send a message to businesses, at home and abroad, that the UK is and will remain a global leader in research and innovation. It will help ensure our global scientific competitiveness and attractiveness for global talent. That attractiveness for global talent will also be supported by the Chancellor’s commitment to continuing to attract the best and brightest researchers to the UK.”


Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive, UK Research and Innovation, said:

“We welcome today’s Spending Review which signals a clear national ambition for research and innovation, building on the Government’s R&D roadmap.

“At a time of unprecedented economic challenge, it recognises the vital role research and innovation will play in addressing immediate issues created by the coronavirus pandemic and in helping create a sustainable and more inclusive knowledge economy for the UK.

“We look forward to working with government, universities, innovative businesses, and with communities across the UK, on the detailed plans that will deliver real benefits from this investment.”


Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng, President, Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“Today’s Spending Review sets us on the right path to addressing the huge challenges facing the UK against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic – achieving a recovery that marries economic renewal with the societal goals of spreading opportunity and skilled employment more evenly across the nation and reducing our net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. There is a long way to go, but I am pleased to see substantial alignment with the recommendations laid out by the engineering profession in its joint submission to the spending review – Engineering a resilient and sustainable future.

“Government appears to be thinking about infrastructure in parallel with net zero and I welcome this shift. Careful and considered decisions made about infrastructure now will drive economic recovery, provide skilled jobs and improve collective wellbeing. Success in achieving net zero will depend on us retrofitting and building a resilient infrastructure system. The announcement of a National Infrastructure Bank, combined with changes to the Green Book, present a real opportunity to deliver this, by considering longer-term value for money and wider policy goals such as net zero and levelling up.

“Today’s settlement reflects a welcome prioritisation of education and skills. The UK’s ambitions on net zero, infrastructure and digitalisation cannot be achieved unless we create the right talent base and provide more people from all backgrounds and at all levels with the right engineering and technical skills. However, we need a long-term, strategic approach to workforce planning, plus an increased focus on innovation, computing and science in schools, if we are to deliver.

“With this statement, government has set the UK on the road to becoming a science, engineering and innovation superpower, recognising the importance of long-term planning for research, providing a multi-year settlement for the National Academies and UK Research and Innovation’s core research budgets. Supporting innovation is vital to ensure that the UK translates its world-class research in technological breakthroughs that can enhance the productivity and competitiveness of UK business.

“We note that within the reduced envelope for Official Development Assistance, there is a continuing commitment to support developing countries to ‘build back greener’, including through research and development on clean energy technologies. We hope that in the difficult decisions to be made on ODA priorities, the essential contributions of infrastructure and engineering skills to sustainable development are fully reflected.”


Dr Beth Thompson, Head of UK/EU Policy, Wellcome Trust, said:

“Today’s Spending Review gives a welcome and long-term commitment to funding for research and development. Investing in science not only brings health benefits, such as vaccines and treatments, but also drives economic prosperity. The additional funding will help strengthen the UK’s position as a global leader in science.

“However global leadership also means supporting other nations in tackling the world’s most urgent health threats, so the cut to the overseas aid budget is deeply concerning. Any reduction in our help to the poorest must be clearly enshrined as temporary. To do otherwise risks the UK’s global standing being eroded.”


Professor Paul Hardaker, Chief Executive Officer, Institute of Physics, said:

“Science has led the world through the COVID-19 crisis and we commend the Government’s decision to invest in our discovery, innovation and skills base as it drafts plans for the UK’s economic recovery.

“Even while the Government is focused on tackling the short-term economic impacts of the pandemic, this commitment of £14.6bn in R&D over the next fiscal year is a strong recognition of the role science – including physics – will play in the levelling up agenda and improving livelihoods and prosperity over the long term.

“UK physics is already world-class and this new investment in physics-based R&D will drive through new innovations for UK PLC that can jump-start the post-COVID recovery. IOP therefore looks forward to working with the Government to advise on how it can unlock the full economic potential of physics, and ensure the UK remains on track to meet the levels of funding in R&D which the Government set out pre-COVID as necessary for the UK to remain competitive.1

“COVID-19 of course presents major challenges to all economies around the world, yet the UK’s challenge is compounded by the immediate prospect of an uncertain future outside the EU. In the event of no-deal Brexit, the absence of European funding, which has played such an important role in UK science and innovation, will mean that many physics and material science institutions and businesses across the UK face a cliff-edge on 1 January. The IOP will continue to work with Government in finding a route to bridge any funding gap in a way that helps maintain the growth in the UK’s high-tech economy.”

1 The UK Government had previously committed to ensuring the UK would meet the OECD-average spend on R&D as a percentage of GDP to 2.4% by 2027, and to increasing public investment in R&D by 15% next year.



Declared interests

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

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