Jo Johnson ‘described flat-cash science budget as best outcome achievable’

Comments on spending review attributed to universities minister later removed by Royal Society of Biology

November 10, 2015
Cat out of the bag

Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, is said to have described a flat-cash science budget – or a cut in real terms – as “likely the best outcome achievable” in the spending review.

The comment was attributed to Mr Johnson in a press release from the Royal Society of Biology (RSB), relating to a discussion between the minister and science representatives.

The press release also said that he had indicated that the “innovation grant system may switch to a loans-based one”, likely to be a reference to funding from Innovate UK, formerly known as the Technology Strategy Board. In 2014-15, Innovate UK provided £595 million in grants to develop science and technology innovations, including £82 million to universities.

The comments on the science budget and innovation funding attributed to Mr Johnson were removed from the press release by the RSB this morning.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is in the process of identifying savings as part of the government's spending review, to be published on 25 November.

The RSB’s press release, published on 6 November, said that a meeting had taken place that week between Mr Johnson and its president, Dame Jean Thomas, and chief executive Mark Downs.

Also present were representatives from the Institute of Physics, the Council for Mathematics, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

The original version of the press release, placed on the RSB’s website, said: “The minister made clear his view that a flat-cash science budget was likely the best outcome achievable in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review and suggested that the innovation grant system may switch to a loans-based one.”

But this morning, the RSB amended that to read: “The minister made clear his view that it is a challenging funding environment and there has been speculation that the innovation grant system may switch to a loans-based one.”

There was also an amendment to another of the comments attributed to Mr Johnson.

The original press release said: “The minister also suggested there may be plans to bring in an overarching committee, possibly through a revision of the current Committee on Science and Technology, with oversight of all government research spending.”

This was amended to: “The minister also suggested there may be plans review [sic] oversight of current spend, possibly through a revision of the current Committee on Science and Technology, with oversight of all government research spending.”

Asked whether BIS had requested the comments attributed to Mr Johnson be removed, an RSB spokeswoman said: “Those here who were in the meeting thought the amendments better reflected the atmosphere communicated, namely that discussions are ongoing in the challenging funding environment with nothing yet set in stone.”

A BIS spokesman said: “Science is a priority area for growth and productivity and we have committed to a real-terms investment of £6.9 billion in science capital up to 2021. Decisions on funding beyond 2016 will be made during the spending review which will examine where best to make robust investments in science and research.”

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