Alarm raised over failure to confirm £22 billion research pledge

Ministerial response offers ‘no comfort that there is not a plan afoot to abandon that very specific promise’ on science spending, says ex-minister Greg Clark

September 21, 2021
Houses of Parliament at night

The UK government’s refusal to confirm its commitment to spend £22 billion a year on research by 2024-25 is a matter of growing concern, a senior Conservative MP has said.

Greg Clark, who chairs the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee, said he was increasingly worried by the omission of his party’s manifesto pledge from recent official documents, including the Innovation Strategy published in July, ahead of next month’s spending review.

The former science minister has recently sought clarification over the commitment which, according to the 2020 Budget, would represent a “landmark investment” and the “fastest ever expansion of support for basic research and innovation, taking direct support for R&D to 0.8 per cent of [gross domestic product]”.

However, Mr Clark expressed his disappointment over the response from business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, which failed to directly commit to the £22 billion pledge and instead quoted the prime minister’s interview with The Daily Telegraph in June which referred to the science pledge amount, although not the date.

“The response from the secretary of state provides no comfort that there is not a plan afoot to abandon that very specific promise,” said Mr Clark.

“If we are to be competitive with other countries it is essential that the government does not renege on its commitment to increase the UK science budget to £22 billion by 2024-25.”

Mr Clark also published his letter to Mr Kwarteng sent in late July, which welcomed the reference to £22 billion a year but queried why “there was no date attached to that commitment”.

“It would be a paradoxical and retrograde step if a new Innovation Strategy, designed to advance the UK’s status as a ‘science superpower’, had downgraded the government’s commitment to invest in science and innovation during this Parliament,” says Mr Clark in the correspondence.

Mr Kwarteng’s letter declines to formally confirm the 2024-25 deadline for delivering the increased spending, stating that while the government would deliver “record public investment” in science, the exact timing of this funding would be decided by the Treasury.

“At the next spending review the government will set out its plans for future investment, including R&D,” says Mr Kwarteng, adding: “You will appreciate that the timing and scope of the next spending review is a matter for HM Treasury.”

Mr Clark said he intended to raise the matter of the Conservative spending pledge ahead of the spending review, which is scheduled for 27 October.

“Ahead of the Budget next month, the committee will hold a special session to hear what would be the consequences of the loss of this commitment for science, research and innovation as we seek to recover from the pandemic,” he said.

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