Science should be at the heart of UK Government’s plan to drive economic growth
Today, we’re publishing our briefing which sets out our priorities for the UK’s research, development and innovation sector to thrive and deliver on prosperity. Professor Gill Reid FRSC FRSE, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), stresses the importance of Rishi Sunak’s government delivering on his commitment to research, development and innovation.
The UK political and economic turbulence over the last few weeks has been significant, even by recent standards. As a scientific researcher and teacher in Higher Education, I know the chemical sciences community wants to make the world a better place and to make sure all of society benefits from research, development and innovation (RDI). I also know just how difficult this is without long-term clarity on investment plans and a stable policy environment. In this article, I look at some key challenges facing the UK RDI sector included in our new briefing and what we’ve been doing at the RSC.
The RSC, alongside other science bodies, makes the case for RDI as a vital driver of long-term prosperity, growth and social and environmental benefit. A fortnight ago, it seemed that the new UK administration would maintain the commitment to increase investment in RDI. However, the financial situation and replacement of the Chancellor and Prime Minister has cast doubt on previous reassurances, for example from Economic Secretary to the Treasury Richard Fuller.
We are urging the UK Government to put science at the heart of its plan to drive economic growth and take a strategic, long-term approach to R&D funding. While recognising the current challenging economic circumstances, reaffirming commitments to investment in science will ensure that the UK remains globally competitive and is equipped to meet challenges such as tackling climate change.
We know that science, research and innovation make a huge contribution to economies. In the UK, the chemistry workforce contributes £83 billion annually to the UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). UK public investment in RDI makes a good return to the economy and leverages in private investment, as is summarised in this briefing by the Campaign for Science and Engineering, which the RSC is a member of.
At the RSC, we know that UK participation in the EU Horizon Programmes is extremely valuable to UK chemistry and to many groups in the EU and associated countries. Having campaigned for UK association to the programmes since the 2016 Brexit referendum, we were pleased that the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement included a joint commitment that the UK would become an associated country in the Horizon Europe programme, alongside Copernicus and Euratom. However, nearly two years later, this has not yet happened, due to ongoing differences between the EU and UK over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The UK Government recently published its suite of temporary transitional measures, that can be put in place quickly if the UK cannot associate to Horizon Europe, as well as some detail on what its longer-term alternatives package to Horizon Europe will be. It is not clear what the process is for development of the longer-term package and when/how the broader sector will be able to input.
The EU Horizon programmes are a vital driver of collaboration, as our case studies show. We continue to urge the UK Government and European leaders to focus on finding agreement to achieve the UK’s association to Horizon Europe, which remains the best outcome for the chemical sciences.
We are also calling on the UK Government to ring fence funding earmarked for Horizon Europe for association, or for alternatives and Third Country Participation if association cannot be achieved and engage as widely as possible with the RDI community to develop and evaluate its contingency proposals for longer-term alternatives to Horizon Europe.
Making the chemical sciences’ voice heard
The cases we have developed and are making on investment in RDI and on Horizon Europe draw on inputs from our members and chemical sciences community. We are grateful for these views and evidence, which bring our case to life and help to convince decision-makers. If you want to share evidence on this topic, please send it to our policy team on the form on the left of this page.
We will continue to make the case to the UK Government and Parliament for investment in RDI and UK association to Horizon Europe, mindful of both the economic and financial situation and the expected impacts of inflation on the research base (as well as the rest of the economy).
Read and share our full briefing on ‘What the UK’s research, development and innovation sector needs to thrive and deliver prosperity’