Brussels, 03 Mar 2004
The UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, met with some of the country's top scientists on 2 March and announced a ten year investment plan for science, engineering and innovation.
Increased investment, together with a review of funding needs and policy priorities, is intended to make Britain one of the most competitive locations in the world for research and development (R&D) and innovation. Announcing the plans, Mr Brown acknowledged that there can be no quick fix, and that only long sightedness will succeed.
'While it would be easier to take the short term route - and to fail to make the necessary investments for the future - we propose to take the longer term view, to choose science above many other spending priorities,' said Mr Brown.
The UK needs to significantly increase its research investment if it is to meet the EU target of increasing research spending to three per cent of GDP by 2010. The figure for the UK was 1.84 per cent in 2000.
The UK's Secretary of State for Industry, Patricia Hewitt, highlighted those areas where more effort is needed in order to attain better results: 'The UK has some of the best scientists and universities in the world [...]. But as our innovation report showed last year, we still need to get science out of the labs, into our companies and onto the balance sheet. Our businesses can and should benefit form this fundamental review of our science needs.'
This was a point echoed by the President of the Royal Society, the UK's scientific academy, Lord May. 'The Chancellor appreciates that while this country has a world class reputation for producing skilled scientists and engineers and carrying out basic research, we need to improve our record for bringing new ideas to the marketplace as products and services.'
Lord May added that when doing this, it is important not to neglect the basic research conducted by the UK's universities, which he described as 'the bedrock of our economy [...], the basis for many of the improvements in our prosperity and quality of life.'
Mr Brown was also eager to ensure that all research sectors were represented at the meeting. In addition to Patricia Hewitt who addressed industry, the country's Secretary of State for Education was also present. Charles Clarke emphasised the importance of high quality science teaching, the science curriculum in schools and university research facilities.
Further details of the ten year investment plan will be announced in July as part of Mr Brown's spending review. The review is widely expected to be Mr Brown's most stringent yet, implying that science will be one of the few areas to profit.
The plans are likely to receive widespread acceptance among the general public, at least if they foresee increased investment in space research, according to the UK think tank Demos. A poll found an increased public interest in space, particularly among 16 to 34 years olds. Following the high profile Beagle 2 mission, this group has been dubbed the 'Beagle generation' by Demos.