Osborne's budget finally provides some good news for science - but long-term question marks remain

23 March 2011

George Osborne's budget for growth is to be welcomed as a much needed boost for science and enterprise, according to the president of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

The chancellor's growth-boosting initiatives such as the creation of 21 new Enterprise Zones (EZ) and research and development (R&D) tax credits for small businesses rising 200 per cent will be much needed by industry as the UK slowly emerges from recession.

The science community had been left scratching its head when the chancellor spoke of "new investment in science" in interviews last week, considering the cuts to science teaching, research and the capital budget. But the RSC has welcomed the announcements as some much needed relief for a sector of vital importance to the British economy. There will be a 100m boost for science with investment in new centres in Cambridge, Norwich, Harwell and Daresbury, funded from the bank levy, the chancellor said today.

Professor David Phillips, President of the RSC, said: "While we welcome the new initiatives laid out by the Chancellor today, let us not forget that science teaching funding is being slashed by three-quarters, research funding falls by more than 17 million and capital spend plummets from 158 million to 53 million; to top it all off, we've got the immigration cap limiting the number of scientists coming to this country coming into force next month.

"Last year, the RSC provided evidence to the Treasury on the past and future contribution of the chemical sciences, which makes an enormous contribution to our economy and enhances the British public's quality of life. Chemistry research alone enables the UK to generate 258 billion each year, or 21% of the nation's GDP. A sustained, broadly-based economic recovery depends on the UK's strengths in these areas.

"So while today's announcements will be a welcome boost for life sciences SMEs, there are still many battles ahead, not in the least the fight to maintain our global standing in science and technology."

The chancellor also announced that he will "radically reduce" the time it takes for life sciences companies to gain approval for clinical trials. "This could mean that the UK will become a more attractive place to do clinical trials," said Professor Phillips. "This is part of the answer on getting drug companies to locate here for discovery and development but we must continue to ensure that the UK remains internationally competitive to maintain its position as a world class hub for the pharmaceutical sector. It is also hoped that this news will also give patent protection in the UK uplift, as this will increase the effective life of a drug patent."

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