Science minister Lord Sainsbury has promised to put in an "ambitious" bid for cash to the next comprehensive spending review despite economic circumstances being more difficult than for the last review.
Giving evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, he said that he would emphasise the success of universities in their links with business. He cited a survey by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in December that revealed the increasing rate of university spin-offs (almost 200 last year as opposed to an average of 70 over the previous five years), the ever-growing numbers of patents being filed and a healthy expansion in university research funded by industry. All these, he said, would enable him to present a strong case to the Treasury.
"I think these are very clear indications that we will be putting to Treasury of how valuable this money now is in terms of our economic performance," he told the committee.
But he admitted: "It is a rather uncomfortable fact that if you look at the Forward-Look statistics, in spite of a very substantial real increase that will take place as part of this spending review in total terms, in real terms we will be spending less across the whole of government than we were in 1988."
Trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt told the committee that both private and public-sector research had to increase significantly if the United Kingdom was to stay at the leading edge.
"The incentives to the private sector to increase its R&D are even more important than what we can contribute in the public sector," she said.
John Taylor, director-general of the research councils, told the select committee that the new research councils' strategy group (RCUK), which comprises the heads of the seven councils, would make future bids to the spending review more transparent. The group would also enable bids to be put forward more efficiently and with more long-term goals and major programmes in mind.
Peter Cotgreave, director of lobby group Save British Science, said he believed Lord Sainsbury's approach of emphasising the performance of British science rather than its spending gaps for the spending review was the right one. But he said that other government departments still did not understand the importance of science, especially the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and was worried that science would lose out in the 2002 review.
The results of the 2002 spending review are expected in the summer.
* Meanwhile, the Office of Science and Technology has given details of how the science budget from the 2000 review is being spent in The Forward Look 2001 report.
The research councils' budget is set at £1.76 billion this year and will rise to £2.16 billion in 2003- 04. The funding and research councils will see money for research and development in science, engineering and technology rise by a quarter by 2003-04 from the 1999-2000 levels. The budget of the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils will triple to £6 million by 2004.
The report shows where the science budget, which is set to reach £7.6 billion in 2003-04, will be spent. Each of the 30 cash-receiving bodies sets out its research priorities, and the report includes tables of data on how the money will be spent.