Feared 40% cuts to the UK’s science budget failed to materialise today, as Chancellor George Osborne announced the budget would be protected in real terms during his Autumn budget statement following the Comprehensive Spending Review.
While during the last five-year parliament was protected in cash terms, the Government this time committed to protecting it in real terms to rise to £4.7 billion in line with future inflation this time.
This figure includes £1.5bn for a new ‘Global Challenges Fund’ which the Government says will ensure that “UK science takes the lead in addressing the problems faced by developing countries while developing our ability to deliver cutting-edge research.”
The news was particularly welcome for a sector which had braced itself for cuts of up to 40%, as the treasury had asked departments to model cuts of between 20 and 40%.
The Chancellor also announced that NHS funding will rise from £100bn this year to £120bn by 2020-21, and that $6 billion of this will be delivered by 2016-17. Osborne quoted NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens as saying the NHS is being funded “appropriately”, while earmarking $22 billion of efficiencies to be made within the health service by 2020-21.
As well as the previously-announced new $150 million Dementia Research Institute, the government said it will invest in excess of £400 million over eight years in a new ‘science hub’, which it says will provide world class Public Health England labs at Harlow, Essex, and help protect the public from threats such as flu and Ebola.
The ABPI welcomed the news, acting CEO Alison Clough saying: “We’re pleased that the Government has said it is committed to protecting the science budget in real terms. This recognises the importance that world-leading science brings to the economy and UK patients.”
However, the industry Association warned that plans for investment into certain projects could affect research funding in future, and that 17% cut to the Business, Innovation and Skills department budget could similarly impact on the UK’s position in science.
Clough continues: “We need more detail about £1.5billion of the existing science budget being earmarked for a new ‘global challenges fund’ and any impact this may have on the current research environment. Promising to protect the budget, while at the same time adding new funding commitments, could mean a cut in real terms.”
“The announcement of cuts to BIS, changes in higher education funding, the implementation of the Nurse review and the move from business grants to loans from Innovate UK, may cause upheaval and impact on the UK’s global competitiveness in science and innovation. We want to work with the Government to address these issues on behalf of our industry.”
Dr Eliot Forster, chair of the collaborative life sciences project, MedCity, says: “It’s absolutely critical that the UK does not lose its ability to innovate. Despite spending less on research and development as a percentage of GDP than many of our competitors, as a nation we continue to punch well above our weight on the global stage. It’s great that the Chancellor has signalled a real terms protection of the science budget and additional funding for the Catapult programme.
“The life sciences sector in particular is one of the great engines driving the health and wealth agenda. Government investment and support play a fundamental role in the health of the whole pipeline, and at a time when the NHS is facing significant challenges we also know that the pursuit and adoption of innovation is absolutely critical to improving patient care and bending the cost curve in the NHS.