Science and Innovation Strategy launched by government

Treasury also announces review of research councils to ensure ‘maximum impact’ from investment

December 17, 2014

Source: Chris Hadfield

The government has announced what it bills as a “£6 billion package for science and innovation”.

The publication of the Science and Innovation Strategy came on the same day that the government announced a review of the research councils, to be led by Sir Paul Nurse – shortly after the publication of a triennial review of the research councils in April.

“Cutting edge science cannot happen without modern infrastructure,” the Science and Innovation Strategy document says. “That is why we have committed £5.9 billion to science capital from 2016 to 2021. This is the longest commitment to science capital in decades.”

George Osborne, the chancellor, had already stated that there would be £5.9 billion of funding between 2016 and 2021 in this month’s Autumn Statement.

As long ago as 2013, he had announced that the annual capital budget for science would be increased to £1.1 billion in 2015-16 and maintained in real terms until the end of the decade.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills billed the highlights of the strategy as including £3 billion to go via the main higher education funding and research councils to “support individual capital projects and institutional capital to maintain the excellence of laboratories at universities and research institutes”, as well as £2.9 billion towards large capital projects to support scientific “Grand Challenges”.

Other elements, already announced in this month’s Autumn Statement, include “up to £235 million” for a Sir Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials based in Manchester.

The strategy also cites £95 million funding for European Space Agency programmes, including taking the lead in the next European Rover mission to Mars, as well as postgraduate loans of up to £10,000 announced in the Autumn Statement.

Vince Cable, the business secretary, said: “We need to maintain our competitive edge so this strategy sets out a long-term plan for expanding our innovation infrastructure, creating high value jobs and putting science and innovation at the heart of economic growth.”

Greg Clark, universities, science and cities minister, said: “Science and innovation will play an important part in defining the UK’s place in the world in the 21st century.  This strategy builds on the great strengths of British science and enterprise and will make sure the UK is the best place in the world to do science and grow an innovative business.”

But Sarah Main, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said: “At best, I was hoping for a visionary ten year strategy with the authority and support of all of government.

“This strategy is reassuring, but falls short on a number of specific commitments, such as a commitment to ring-fence the science budget or to set long-term goals for science investment. I hope the next government will take the opportunity of the Spending Review to underpin this strategy with financial commitment.”

Steve West, chair of the University Alliance and vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England, said: “The scale of consultation by the government on the Science and Innovation Strategy was unprecedented and they should be applauded for that.

“However, it’s disappointing to learn this long-awaited strategy, which should be setting out the future of the next 10 years of UK science and innovation, has kicked back much of the crucial decision-making until after the election next May, and in some cases, following further reviews.”

The review of the research councils, announced in a press release from the Treasury, will examine how they can “ensure maximum impact” from the £5.9 billion investment.

Sir Paul, president of the Royal Society, said: “This government has declared science a priority and, as the economy recovers, that should mean increased investment.  This review will allow us to make sure that we are investing that public money in the best possible way.

“We must capitalise on the UK’s top quality science and ensure that we get the right long term return for the taxpayer’s money.”

john.morgan@tesglobal.com

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