Lords hear CaSE concerns over investment

In yesterday’s debate on economic growth in the House of Lords, Baroness Sharp (a member of the Lords Science and Technology Select Committee) cited CaSE’s recent report on the precarious state of science and engineering funding, and called on the government to invest more in research.

Baroness Sharp: I also want to talk about science and innovation. I applaud the ring-fencing of the science budget of £4.6 billion and the extra money that has gone into the research budget in the past 18 months. However, the 2010 spending review slashed capital expenditure in the science sector and, as the Campaign for Science and Engineering has exposed, left the sector as a whole £1.7 billion worse off in cash terms.

Spending on science is not just money for research to underpin our science base. It simultaneously trains a cadre of scientists and technicians, who are essential if we as a nation are to pick up and use modern technologies to the full. That is precisely what underpins Siemens and German competitiveness.

We may well be ring-fencing science in relation to other public expenditure but we ignore what is happening overseas. Figures for 2009 show that, at 1.8%, the UK spends a smaller proportion of its GDP on R and D than any other G7 nation except Italy, while the government spend of 0.17% is bottom of the G7 league table. Germany, the US and Japan are now up to 3%, while China is fast moving up the league tables, as others have noticed. If we are to meet the aspiration expressed in David Willetts’s speech in January-that Britain should be the best place in the world to do research-we need to increase our spend substantially.”

 To read Baroness Sharp’s full comments see the debate transcript here.

The Funding Landscape

This is not the first time CaSE’s argument on science funding has been raised in Parliament. The Shadow Business, Innovation and Skills Minister and the Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee have both put forward CaSE’s position in the House of Commons, and our comments on this year’s Budget have also been discussed in the chamber.

CaSE has welcomed recent government announcements on science and engineering funding over the last year, but has warned that the research base will be £1.7bn worse off by 2014-15 as a result of funding decisions that were made in the Spending Review. Our report (Public Funding of UK Science and Engineering: Putting Government Rhetoric to the Test), shows that if we use the pre-2010 definition of ‘the Science Budget’, we see a total cut of 12.0% in cash terms over the course of the spending review – even before inflation is taken into account.

We have to see this being rectified by the government, or else feel the costs for decades to come. If the UK doesn’t look to specialise in high-tech jobs and growth, it risks being outcompeted by nations able to specialise in low-skills or natural resources.

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