Chancellor announces £200 million boost to science funding

Science organisations have welcomed the government’s announcement of £200 million in additional capital spending.

November 29, 2011

The announcement was made today by chancellor George Osborne in his autumn statement, as part of his review of the government’s strategy on economic growth.

The announcement includes £80 million for the second phase of the development of Biotechnology and Biological Science’s Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright in Surrey.

Funding for the first phase was protected in last October’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

It also includes £61 million which will be added to the research councils’ capital budget, which was slashed in the CSR by nearly £800 million over the four years of the spending period, amounting to a cut of nearly 50 per cent compared to 2010-11 levels.

The announcement also includes £13 million for the next phase of the Archer high performance computing project, £25 million for demonstration projects in fields such as smart energy grids and low-carbon vehicles and £21 million on remote sensing projects using radar and satellites, which the government hopes will also attract private investment.

The funding boost follow previous top-ups to the science spending announced in the CSR.

In this year’s Budget the chancellor announced a £100 million investment in four research campuses, while October’s Conservative Party conference saw the announcement of a £145 million investment in e-infrastructure and a £50 million on a new “graphene hub”.

David Willetts, the science and universities minister, said the new investment took the total additional science investment to almost half a billion.

“It will ensure we maintain our leading position in research, providing cutting-edge new facilities and vital infrastructure,” he said.

“It also underpins important industrial sectors and will unlock private investment in new products and services, driving growth and creating high-tech, highly-skilled jobs.”

Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, said the UK’s world-class scientists needed world-class facilities.

“You would not keep a Da Vinci in a garden shed,” he said.

“The repeated references to science and innovation in the chancellor’s speech show a commitment to science and engineering being the basis for a sustainable economic recovery but it will only happen if we are willing to invest heavily, like many of our competitors.

“Today’s announcements must be the start of that additional investment rather than just a one off.”

Sir Peter Knight, president of the Institute of Physics, said the investment “shows a foresight that will deliver discoveries, both for blue skies and applied science, which can provide the genesis of growth for the successful businesses, and even entire industries, which will dominate our future economy”.

But he warned that a longer-term commitment to improved funding was required to send a “strong, positive signal” to young researchers that they had “bright future prospects” in the UK.

Imran Khan, director of the Camapign for Science and Engineering, praised the government for responding to the sector’s spending priorities.

“It is really encouraging for the UK economy that last year’s cuts are being slowly reversed,” he said. “We now need to see a genuine strategy from our political leaders about how we’re going to put science and engineering at the heart of our economic recovery.”

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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