George Osborne wants the UK to be the best place in the world for research. But during his time as Chancellor, UK science has slipped back relative to Britain’s major economic competitors. Among the G8 nations, the UK now invests the smallest fraction of its GDP on research (0.44%). The UK now has an economy that is less research intensive than China. For the past five years the research base has held its own – just. But the flat-cash settlement of 2010 has been eroded by inflation, and cuts to capital and departmental spending have left the UK with a reduced research base.
But as the UK is pulling out of recession, there are renewed threats to science funding. Cuts of 25-40% have been mooted, but even another flat-cash settlement would be a backward step. Five more years of decline will see further erosion of the UK’s capacity to face the scientific and technological challenges of the future: climate change, energy and food supplies, emerging diseases and our aging population.
Worse still, stalled productivity – the result of slowing innovation – remains a formidable challenge for the UK economy, which if not corrected will lead to stagnating living standards and persistent government deficits. Public investment drives private spending on R&D, which remains a key instrument of growth in high tech industries, not only providing the seed corn of discovery, but also ensuring robust returns on investment and retaining the research capacity to nurture a confident knowledge economy.
Britain has a proud record of world-class research but the scientific community is deeply alarmed by the government’s apparent lack of direction and ambition. Ahead of the Science is Vital Rally at Conway Hall, London on 26th October, our press briefing articulated those concerns and call for a more positive vision of the future.
Dr Jennifer Rohn, Biologist, Chair of Science is Vital
Prof. Jim Al-Khalili, Physicist, broadcaster and writer
Prof. Richard AL Jones FRS, Physicist and commentator on research and innovation; Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, University of Sheffield. (see www.softmachines.org)
Dr Helen Czerski, Physicist, oceanographer and broadcaster
Dr Andrew Steele, Biologist, and creator of scienceogram.org – a highly accessible analysis of public R&D spending