MPs urge protection of UK science base

With science and research spending already below the OECD average, new report by the Science and Technology Committee calls on the Treasury to "safeguard both the quality and the productivity of our science base"

By Josh May

09 Nov 2015

Britain risks losing its status as a “science superpower” unless the government pledges to increase funding for research and development, MPs have warned.

The Science and Technology Committee called on ministers to use this month’s Spending Review to unveil a "roadmap" of how the UK will increase spending on science to 3% of GDP.

Research and development should be looked at as an investment, rather than a “state subsidy”, the MPs said.

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“The UK is a science superpower,” committee chairwoman Nicola Blackwood (pictured) said. “With less than 1% of the world’s population the UK produces over 15% of its scientific research. We have four of the top six universities and our academics are cited in 10% of all patent applications.

“Our science spending, however, has now fallen below the OECD average and is well below key competitors like Germany and the US. The UK risks losing its status as a world leader in research if the Treasury does not make a long term commitment to increase science funding in the Spending Review.”

She added: “We face a century of complex societal challenges – from ageing to contagious diseases, climate change to antibiotic resistance – and it will be our researchers and innovators who are at the forefront of sustaining our way of life.

“We have responsibility to safeguard both the quality and the productivity of our science base to ensure we are in a position to meet that challenge.”

The UK currently spends 1.7% of GDP on science and research, compared to an OECD average of 2.4% and 2.8% and 2.9% for the US and Germany respectively. The budget has fallen 6% in real terms since 2010, the committee added. 

By setting out a plan to reach the 3% benchmark, the chancellor would “send a crucial signal about the long-term stability and sustainability of our science and innovation ecosystem, supercharging private sector R&D investment from industry, charities and overseas investors alike”, Blackwood said.

The report criticises the government for failing to provide enough resource funding to match its capital expenditure.

It cites the example of a £400m project in Harwell that will only run for 120 days compared to an optimal 180 days because of “insufficient operational funding”. Ms Blackwood describes the situation as “farcical” and says it “must be put right as a matter of urgency, not to mention common sense”.

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