Science gets Pounds 500 million recognition

July 21, 2000

Science is Pounds 500 million richer after chancellor Gordon Brown declared it was central to the economic future of the United Kingdom during his announcement of the government's comprehensive spending review (CSR).

Half the money will be spent on key research areas, including the exploitation of the human genome and developing a successor to the worldwide web.

The Pounds 500 million is in addition to the Pounds 1 billion Science Research Investment Fund for infrastructure, which is jointly financed by the government and the Wellcome Trust.

Overall, this will increase the science budget, held by the Office of Science and Technology, by an average of 7 per cent a year for three years from 2001-02.

Details of where the new money will be allocated are expected to emerge by October.

Under the previous CSR, funding had already been allocated to raise the science budget, currently at Pounds 1.638 billion, to a baseline of Pounds 1.698 billion for the three years between 2001 and 2004.

This week's announcement will see it rise to Pounds 1.776 billion in 2001-02; Pounds 1.920 billion in 2002-03 and Pounds 2.165 billion in 2003-04.

The increases include the chancellor's Pounds 500 million, the OST's Pounds 225 million share of the Science Research Investment Fund and the Pounds 14 million annual cost of the Cambridge-MIT Institute, which will amount to Pounds 68 million over five years.

The Pounds 500 million, most of which will be channelled into universities, breaks down as follows:

* Pounds 104 million to maintain the science budget against inflation over the three-year period

* Pounds 252 million for new research initiatives, principally post-genomic research to exploit the sequencing of the human genome to develop therapies and medicines, and the Grid, a successor to the worldwide web. Smaller sums will go to other areas, including sustainability and nanotechnology

* Pounds 34 million to meet the extra cost of increasing PhD stipends from Pounds 6,620 to Pounds 9,000 by 2003-04, as announced on July 5

* Pounds 110 million to promote the commercialisation of research. This will fund a second round of university challenge and science enterprise challenge while enhancing other similar schemes. Government laboratories - including research council institutes and National Health Service units - will take Pounds 10 million. The rest of the funds will go to universities.

Trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers said it would keep the UK "at the forefront of scientific advances", while science minister Lord Sainsbury said it amounted to a statement of confidence in British science.

Scientists welcomed the announcement, though many were anxious that the spending review should include similarly generous settlements for university funding and research in other government departments.

Among them was Richard Joyner, chair of the pressure group Save British Science and dean of research at Nottingham Trent University.

He said: "The UK science community relishes the opportunities that the extra funding will provide and, as it always has, will ensure that the investment is amply justified." However, he added that to attract and retain the best young people would require adequate salaries.

Sir Aaron Klug, president of the Royal Society, highlighted as particularly heartening the decision to invest in infrastructure, as well as to raise postgraduate grants and fund new research programmes.

Sir George Radda, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, praised the effort to back genomics, in the wake of the completion of the working draft of the human genome.

Ian Halliday, chief executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, said that the money for next-generation electronic communications would enable UK scientists to lead the European effort to develop the Grid.

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