Scientists all over the UK have been dreading yesterday’s spending review – but it turns out we needn’t have been quite so worried.
Chancellor George Osbourne yesterday announced that science funding will be protected in real terms, with £5 billion being allocated to health research and development, including programmes to battle malaria and dementia, over £1 billion funding for aerospace and automotive technologies, and a £250 million nuclear research programme. There is also going to be a much needed review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), to try and simplify the system and ensure funding is based on excellence. £400 million has also been set aside for the ‘Northern Powerhouse investment fund’ to boost transport, art and sciences in the north.
Prof. Dominic Tildesley, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, is ‘delighted’ by the review, stating that ‘it is hugely encouraging to see our science base recognised as a vital part of the infrastructure needed to build a growing, knowledge-based economy’.
However, while scientists are relieved budgets haven’t been cut, as feared, there is a continued concern that the UK are lagging behind other countries around the world, in terms of the percentage of our budget spent on research. Indeed, this year the UK was found to spend below 0.5% of our GDP on research – putting us last in the G8. There is the risk that this increase won’t offset inflation in coming years, and this percentage could drop even further.
Furthermore, departments which are significantly linked to science, such as the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and the Home Office, have received cuts, which may bring about some problems for research.
Although it is encouraging to see the present government keeping science budgets steady, it is still concerning that we lag behind so many other countries, and we’re still at risk of losing our strong R&D reputation.
After the long wait, we’re relieved by the news, but not overjoyed. Time will tell how effective this new budget will be for the immediate future of science in the UK.