Labour and Tories not backing up ‘warm words’ on science

The two main parties’ manifestos have a mismatch between rhetoric and commitment to investment in science and engineering, an analysis has suggested.

April 27, 2015

The briefing document, published by the Campaign for Science and Engineering, finds that despite talking about the value of science and engineering neither the Conservative Party nor the Labour Party has said it will invest more in the area.

The Liberal Democrats, Green Party, UK Independence Party and Scottish National Party, however, all make explicit pledges to boost science funding in at least one area.

CaSE said that the mismatch “leaves the [Labour and Conservative] parties open to criticisms that they are missing a clear opportunity to invest for growth”.

The analysis looks at science and engineering policies in the manifestos and speeches of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green Party, Ukip, Scottish National Party and others.

Naomi Weir, acting director of CaSE, said that the manifestos contain “some good news” for science and engineering but “shy away from backing warm words with real investment”.

She added: “The potential for science and engineering to benefit the long-term health of the UK economy, and its citizens, is enormous.

“To do that, the next government must increase investment in research and development and develop joined-up policy for skills, both home-grown and from overseas.”

Prime minister David Cameron and chancellor George Osborne have “repeatedly stated” that science is at the heart of their plan to eliminate the deficit and reduce national debt, says CaSE.

“[B]ut their manifesto contains no new money for science and no commitment to continue the Science Budget ring-fence, which is very concerning,” it adds.

The Conservative manifesto says the party will direct further resources towards the Eight Great Technologies and continue to implement the Science and Innovation Strategy.

Labour, meanwhile, says in its manifesto that it will introduce a new long-term funding and policy framework for science and innovation after it has conducted a post-election review.

Although this means that the party has not made any science investment commitments, its fiscal rules do allow borrowing for investment, which could mean that it could invest in science and engineering, says CaSE in the analysis.

Labour pledges to establish a new National Infrastructure Commission, which will have the aim of making UK the best place in the world to do scientific research.

“But out and about, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have barely mentioned the importance of science and engineering to economic growth – we could only find three set speeches between them that make this link in the past year,” says CaSE.

The Liberal Democrats are the only party to commit to maintaining the ring-fence around the science budget and to ensuring that capital and revenue spending increase at least in line with inflation by 2020.

The party says it will double investment in innovation and introduce more Catapult Centres, as well as double funding for dementia research by 2020 and create a world-leading mental health research fund with £50 million of public funding.

CaSE says that it is not clear how deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander “feel about science’s values” but that business secretary Vince Cable has spoken out against cuts to science.

The Green Party pledges to increase government funding as a proportion of GDP, from 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent over 10 years. “The Party is not short of science policy and is keen to spend on it. Out of all the parties, their policies, if enacted, could have the most profound effect on the shape and focus of UK science and engineering,” adds CaSE.

Science and engineering is not a big theme of the Ukip manifesto, according to the analysis. But the party does focus on dementia research, with a specific pledge to invest an extra £130 million in research and treatment by 2017.

The SNP, however, “supports calls” to double research funding across the UK for motor neurone disease and will use business tax allowances to encourage research and development investment, says the analysis.

It will also create a £1 million Innovation Challenge Fund to help address societal and business challenges.

“The party’s objection to austerity could mean less pressure on departmental budgets but it is impossible to tell if the SNP would support increased funding for science over other areas of government spending,” adds CaSE.

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