Labour in search of brain gain

April 18, 1997

LABOUR has promised to reverse the brain drain, but without putting a price on the programme it says will do the job.

Gordon Brown, shadow chancellor of the exchequer, told an election press conference: "It would be wrong to name a specific sum of money, but a Labour government would make a considerable commitment to science. We believe there will be a brain gain as scientists tell us they are coming home to Britain."

Labour science spokesman Adam Ingram put the case for science in a firmly economic context: "As a nation we need to create a culture that values long-term research and development. The simple message is that basic and pure research has the capacity to create wealth.

"It is impossible to have a successful wealth creation approach for the nation without a pool of knowledge and inventions to draw upon."

The loss of academic talent, put by a recent survey at 24 per cent of fellows of the Royal Society working abroad, was singled out as a serious problem by Labour leader Tony Blair, making his keynote education speech last Monday.

Mr Ingram said: "Many scientists went abroad with science in decline in this country. We have to turn this round and enthuse them again."

Labour's chief weapon is its National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. This will be funded by gifts from scientists and inventors taken from copyright and patent income. It will also be given lottery cash, once the Millennium Fund has ended.

David Blunkett, shadow education and employment secretary, said NESTA would be "a bank for British genius", among other tasks promoting "innovation incubators, to provide the expertise and advice to help scientists and inventors turn good ideas into practical applications in universities for example".

Labour paraded endorsements from 24 scientists, including 1996 Nobel chemistry prize-winner Sir Harold Kroto and Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees. Five of those cited work abroad.

Paul Davies, professor of natural philosophy at the University of Adelaide, who left Britain in 1990, wrote: "I am sure that should Labour have a chance to put their ideas into practice, we will certainly see some scientists coming home."

* Mr Brown said there was no likelihood of Labour privatising government research establishments: "The prior options review said they should stay in the public sector and we accept that conclusion. Where they have been privatised, we will work with the management to secure the best possible research in the public interest".

Key constituency map, page 5

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