This Government has made efforts to protect science spending, and even increase investment in certain areas, but in reality the Science Budget cash freeze over the last parliament equates to a cut of around £1 billion. Over the short term this decrease can be weathered, but if extended it risks our reputation as a scientific nation and could lead to us losing our talent base and our ability to attract investment. As early as 2012, 58% of researchers identified the UK’s funding climate as a factor to thoughts of leaving the UK.
Our science base is efficient, but that efficiency may be reaching its limit. A cumulative £283 million saving has been delivered by the research community since 2010. But a recent government report looking at levels of R&D spending stated:
This overall level is unlikely to allow the UK to maintain or develop its leadership in science and innovation. If this is not addressed now then the cost of rebuilding capacity will be severe.
A long-term plan to support our knowledge economy
To address this steady decline, and protect the UK’s position as a world-leading knowledge economy, we need a long-term plan to support our knowledge economy.
By providing this strong statement of intent the government would give business the certainty to invest, and researchers the ability to plan a career. The ring-fence in the last government was vital for just this reason, showing certainty of intention even in tight financial circumstances.
Returning R&D investment to growth would build our capacity to both develop new technologies and capitalise on those developed elsewhere, whilst simultaneously boosting our ability to train a highly skilled workforce to facilitate the economy of tomorrow.
Both public and private sectors have a role to play here, but international comparisons (figure 2) and economic studies show that government expenditure on R&D is a key driver for increasing overall investment, with tax credits and grants boosting levels of both private funding and performance.
UK public funding for research is well behind our competitors, investing under 0.5% of GDP, behind OECD and EU averages of around 0.7%. Setting in place a long-term framework to increase public investment to EU average by 2020 would place us on the trajectory to protect our economy, and build strength in our universities and innovative businesses to forge a robust future for our nation.
Our recommendations to government:
- Government & business increase investment in R&D as part of a long term strategy.
Excellent science is supported across the breadth of the UK.
- Public funding leads private,
- Long-term investment will provide a secure research ecosystem to attract business investment and top-class researchers,
- Set a target to raise our government investment to the EU average (0.7% of GDP) by the end of this parliament.
Science budget spending is protected in real terms.
- Broad fundamental research is necessary to produce paradigm shifting breakthroughs, and ensure the capability and skills to capitalise on discoveries no matter where in the world they come from.
- Both capital and non-capital are essential for scientific progress.
- Committed capital funding requires consumables and skilled researchers and technicians to operate.
- Combining both capital and non-capital budgets within a ring-fence at the very least formally protected against inflation would ensure that the UK’s research base can operate at maximum efficiency