Autumn statement science boost to offset cuts

The UK science community has welcomed an additional £600 million of investment in research infrastructure. The money was announced in the autumn statement by George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer. This comes on top of a recent £200 million boost to the Research Partnership Infrastructure Fund, which uses public and private money to back promising innovative research and technologies, and extra money for graphene, synthetic biology and space science, among others.

Despite these funding fillips, the money comes at a time of austerity for UK science. While the science budget was ringfenced and received a funding freeze over the course of the 2011–2015 comprehensive spending review, capital investment was not protected. Funding for big equipment purchases and other infrastructure for universities and research facilities was slashed by £1.4 billion or 42% over the same period, so this money will go some way to offsetting these cuts.

‘At the last comprehensive spending review, capital spending was not included within the science budget ring-fence, effectively leading to a 40 per cent cut – so this extra investment will be well-received by the scientific community,’ said Robert Parker, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry. ‘However, the news that this extra cash for science comes at the expense of department budgets that are already stretched is concerning, particularly since a number of those departments who support science have already unevenly cut their spending in this area.’

‘We were hoping that the chancellor would continue his trend of supporting science and engineering, and are really delighted with this new commitment – the total amount of new funding since 2010 has now reached almost £2 billion,’ said Imran Khan, director of the UK Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE). ‘We hope that the chancellor's next step is to back the recommendations of CaSE and Nesta's 4Growth report, which is supported by figures such as Brian Cox and James Dyson and calls on the government to strategically reinvest the £4 billion proceeds from the forthcoming 4G spectrum auction back into science and technology.’

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