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Science and the Spending Review

Posted on 26 June, 2013 by Eva Sharpe
Today the Chancellor laid out plans for Government spending for 2015/16 in a spending review taking us beyond the next general election. Here at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, we were watching with anticipation to see what the Chancellor’s announcements would bring for science.

In the run-up to the review, many were concerned that the science budget could face significant cuts and across the sector we were showcasing the value of investing in science for the health and wealth of the nation, and calling for long-term investment plans. You can read a blog post from our Chief Executive here at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), Professor Alan Ashworth, on how vital government spending on science is and what it means for cancer research.

In the last Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010, the science budget was frozen and ring-fenced at £4.6 billion annually, and today the Chancellor announced that this figure has been frozen for an additional year for 2015/16. It is good news of course that the budget hasn’t been cut, but ever since this initial freeze, overall research funding has been eroded by the depreciating effect of inflation and this will continue to be the case. There are concerns that at a time when many of our competitor countries are increasing their spend on research, we are going in the opposite direction. Public funding for R&D in the UK was 0.57% of GDP in 2011, compared with 0.85% in Germany and 0.92% in the US, and today’s spending review will have done little to change that.

There has however been one significant improvement since the last spending review. In 2010 the freeze in science spend was coupled with a large decrease in capital spending which fell outside the science budget ring fence. Since then £1.5bn additional capital funding has been released, reducing this shortfall. The latest spending review increases science capital spending to £1.1 billion, and includes a commitment to maintain this increased funding in the longer term until the end of the decade. We’ll need to wait for further details before we know whether this was the long-term strategy the sector was looking for.

One funding stream that we were keeping an eye out for in the announcements today was the Charity Research Support Fund which I blogged about earlier this month. This funding stream amounted to £9.5 million of funding for the ICR this year, so it was great to hear that the fund will get continued support in 2015/16, which the Chancellor accounted to the hard work of our friends over at Breast Cancer Campaign with their Keep the Power On campaign.

While the science budget was frozen, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, in which it is housed, fared rather worse, with a 6% cut in its budget. We will need to wait to see the full details of how BIS will be making these savings and the effects that they will have. Times Higher Education described the response to the science deal as a ‘cautious welcome’ as many in the university sector were expecting harder cuts and we do acknowledge the role that David Willetts and Vince Cable must have played in championing science to get such a settlement.

The Chancellor offered warm words on the importance of science for the country, describing it as an “enormous strength for a modern economy” and calling for the UK to “keep inventing, keep delivering”. How this is achieved in the long run is going to depend on the exact details which will be continued to be debated. Tomorrow we’re expecting more information on the capital spending to be announced, so we’ll continue to watch this space.

You can read a statement on the spending review from the Chief Executive of the ICR, Professor Alan Ashworth on the ICR website.


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