This spending round also sees a significant increase for schools. That is of course welcome, though it is unclear whether this is fully covered by the departmental budget increase. We eagerly anticipated an increase in funding for 16-19 education, long underfunded compared to other stages of education. The £400m increase is a step in the right direction, but contrasts starkly with the billions pledged for schools and the more than £500 million committed to future sports events.
Within that FE funding, we need to see sciences included in the crucial courses attracting dedicated support. Technical courses in the sciences, which are currently funded at the base rate, need to receive a funding uplift to assist providers with delivery. Funding aimed at supporting T-levels should go towards extending the capital fund, so that providers beginning delivery of new subjects in 2021 – which includes Science – can call upon funding to improve their facilities.
Given that this is a one-year spending plan, details on longer-term announcements, including how they relate to existing budgets is yet to be seen. The lack of information on source budgets and links to existing funding pots means that it is not always clear what the overall UK offer is on the international stage.
Clarity on the UK’s public investment offer is vital to inspire the confidence of international investors, innovators and researchers. A digital shop window for R&D investment would position the UK as the go-to place for science.
The Chancellor also announced £432m of funding for Defra to set world-leading environmental standards. Funding is only one part of the equation to set standards that protect the environment and human health. Collaboration and sharing of evidence between scientists in the UK and their counterparts in the EU and globally is vital to achieve the goal of high environmental standards globally.
No deal not an option
While the increases announced today are a step in the right direction, we must use this opportunity to build on them for longer-term funding plans. No amount of short-term spending can replace networks and standards built up over decades of collaborations and we reiterate that a no-deal Brexit is not an option for the chemical sciences.