Chancellor delivers UK science boost, but chooses to fall short of Barcelona target

July 14, 2004

Brussels, 13 Jul 2004

As part of his comprehensive spending review published on 12 July, the UK Chancellor Gordon Brown has promised an extra 1 billion GBP (1.5 billion euro) in government funding for the country's science base.

According to Mr Brown, public investment in science will rise from its current level of 3.9 billion GBP (5.9 billion euro) a year to 5 billion GBP (7.5 billion euro) annually by 2008, which represents a doubling of UK investment in science since the start of the present government in 1997.

However, the Chancellor revealed that this extra investment forms part of a wider 10 year framework for science and innovation, the ultimate objective of which is to raise overall public and private spending on research to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2014. These figures fall short of the target agreed by European Heads of State and Government in Barcelona in 2002 to raise EU research investment to 3 per cent of GDP by 2010.

A spokesperson for the UK Treasury told CORDIS News that the Barcelona target was an aspirational one, and that while countries such as France and Germany have adopted it as a national target, the government believes that 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2014 is right for the UK. 'We agree with the underlying analysis that led to the Barcelona target, but the figure of 3 per cent of GDP is not right for the UK,' the spokesperson said.

Presenting his spending review, Mr Brown told the UK parliament: 'The future of the British economy depends on the future of British science. The 10 year framework for science and innovation that the Secretaries of State for Industry and Education and I are publishing today is designed to make Britain the best and most attractive location for science and innovation in the world.

'[O]ur objective is to raise overall spending in Britain on private and public research and development from 1.9 per cent of national income - amongst the lowest of our competitors - to, by 2014, 2.5 per cent of GDP - among the best of our competitors, and the best guarantee of a successful economic future for our country,' he added.

According to the spending review itself, this target represents a considerable challenge both for government and UK business: 'It can be achieved only if this commitment from government to invest substantially in the science base is matched by the private sector and leading charitable funding,' it reads.

However, this challenge appeared somewhat less daunting after Mr Brown revealed that as a result of his investment plans, the Wellcome Trust had pledged to match their commitment and invest an extra 1.5 billion GBP (2.25 billion euro) in UK research, in partnership with the government.

The new government funds will be used to support science teaching in schools, improve graduate researchers' salaries, strengthen basic science and encourage link-ups between universities and business, the Chancellor said. A new government forum on global science and innovation will also be established to develop a strategy to ensure that UK priorities and actions make the most of international opportunities, including European research and innovation initiatives.

'In preparing our spending review, I have consulted not just with the scientific community but with the CBI, business organisations, trade unions and regional organisations in every part of the UK, among whom there is a remarkable agreement [...] that it is in the national interest not to cut science [...] investment but to press ahead with sustained long term investment,' Mr Brown concluded. For further details of the UK comprehensive spending review, please: click here

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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