UK must increase science funding to remain competitive

Posted on 10 Nov 2015 by Victoria Fitzgerald

The UK is falling behind its competitors in R&D investment and the Government will be putting competitiveness, productivity and jobs at risk if it does not set out a clear roadmap to increase science funding in the Spending Review, the cross-party Science & Technology Committee is warning.

Committee Chair Nicola Blackwood MP commented: “The UK is a science superpower. 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.

Nicola Blackwood MP
Nicola Blackwood MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.

“Spending on science and innovation is not a state subsidy, it is a strategic investment that creates jobs, increases productivity and attracts inward investment.

“Committing the UK to a 3% GDP target for science spending 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.”

The MPs are calling on the Government to produce a long term ‘roadmap’ for increasing public and private sector science R&D investment in the UK to 3% of GDP — the EU 15 Target.

Since 2010 there has been a flat-cash settlement for resource spending in the Science Budget that has seen the real world value fall by around 6%. This has left the UK spending 1.7% of GDP on science and research, below the OECD average of 2.4% and behind the 2.8% and 2.9% spent by the US and Germany.

MPs also pointed out that capital spending on new science infrastructure must be matched by sufficient annual resource funds to run the facilities at full capacity.

The inquiry heard that the £400m ISIS neutron source at Harwell will only run for approximately 120 days this year, instead of an optimal 180 days, reportedly due to in insufficient operational funding.

The Committee is calling for a more robust system to integrate capital and resource funding. It recommends that the Government conducts an urgent review of all capital allocations to ensure sufficient resource is in place to ‘sweat our assets’.