George Osborne gives strong hint on protecting science

George Osborne has given his strongest hint yet that science funding will be protected in the coming spending review

Speaking at the topping-out ceremony of the £700 million Francis Crick Institute in central London today, the chancellor stressed the value of science to the country and economy.

“Science is a personal priority for me, not just in the short term but in the long term too. And in the spending review in a few weeks will set out exactly how we deliver on that personal priority,” he said.

Asked later whether Mr Osborne could still follow such comments by cutting science in the 2015-16 spending review on 26 June, he told journalists: “I think if you listen to what I’ve been saying today about the importance of science, how it’s a personal priority for me, I think you can read between the lines that I’m going to do everything I can to make sure Britain has a bright scientific future.”

He added that he hoped at the spending review to set out “the long term commitment to science not just…the science budget for the year 2015-16”.

Mr Osborne also said nothing to rule out speculation – reported by Times Higher Education last month - that the Treasury may move funding for the Medical Research Council away from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to the Department of Health.

“Whatever the arrangements we come up with, and I absolutely stress nothing has been decided in this space at all…I give you an absolute commitment that I will do nothing that jeopardises that vital basic research that the Medical Research Council undertakes, and I would always make sure that that money is not used for other things,” he told reporters. 

He added that this had been a point of discussion at a breakfast meeting with heads of the learned societies and other prominent figures in science this morning.

The government also today announced more winning projects from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, managed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Five projects will be funded with £72 million from the scheme, matched more than two to one by businesses and charities for a total value of £290 million.

The five projects - in medical research, advanced materials, physical sciences, pharmaceutical manufacturing and advanced manufacturing - are partnerships involving University College London and the universities of Manchester, Cambridge, Strathclyde and Sheffield.

The announcement brings the total number of projects within the fund to 20, with 15 based in Russell Group universities.

Mr Osborne told reporters that the UK RPIF had been “more successful than we dared hope”, having leveraged more than £800 million in private funding through £300 million of taxpayers’ money.

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