Tory ex-minister warns PM against ‘devastating’ UK research cuts

Cutting existing research budgets by up to £2 billion would put ‘science superpower’ aim at risk, Greg Clark tells Boris Johnson

March 23, 2021
Houses of Parliament at night

Former Conservative minister Greg Clark has urged the prime minister to personally intervene to stop cuts to UK research funding, warning that reducing existing budgets by up to £2 billion to pay the bill for joining Horizon Europe would be “devastating”.

The House of Commons Science and Technology chair released a letter to Boris Johnson on 23 March, warning that the government’s aims to make the UK a “science superpower” – outlined in last week’s Integrated Review of defence and foreign policy – would be jeopardised by the cuts.

Times Higher Education reported last week that sector figures described the Treasury as taking a “you wanted it, you pay for it” approach to Horizon Europe funding in talks with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on its budget settlement – and warned that only the prime minister’s rapid personal intervention could stop the cuts.

Mr Clark, a former secretary of state in BEIS, writes in the letter: “It is deeply concerning that at the very moment when the whole country recognises the importance of scientific research and when a government has been elected with a promise to double the budget for research, that the science budget should be facing immediate and substantial cuts involving the cancellation of current research.”

The letter highlights suggestions “that the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe will be funded (at a cost of £2 billion a year) from the BEIS science budget. While the UK was a member state this formed part of the UK’s overall subscription to the European Union and was always accepted to be additional to the BEIS science/R&D budget.

“To now deduct this from the science budget would reduce the UKRI budget for science and research by nearly a quarter just at the point when it was expected that resources would be increasing. That would be a devastating reduction which would reverse two years of intended increases and mean that the ambition for Britain to be a science superpower would be deferred for much of this parliament.”

The letter also criticises cuts made by BEIS to funding for overseas research partnerships, as well as warning that medical research charities such as Cancer Research UK have not been supported to mitigate huge drops in fundraising income in the pandemic.

“In the midst of a global pandemic, where we owe so much to science, and at a time when the government has rightly chosen to double our national commitment to science, it would be paradoxical if science funding were cut,” Mr Clark writes.

“Knowing how personally important the UK’s strength in science is to you and to the government, and at this moment of maximum recognition of its impact, I would appreciate your personal attention to resolving this urgent situation.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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