George Osborne pumps extra ?200m into science in autumn statement
The chancellor injected ?200m into UK science projects on Tuesday, bolstering research into animal disease, green transport and satellites that can peer at the planet’s surface through cloud cover.
The extra money announced in George Osborne’s autumn statement included ?80m towards new high containment laboratories to study bird flu and other diseases at the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright in Surrey.
A further ?21m will go to the space industry to develop a constellation of small satellites called NovaSAR, which use radar to take images of the Earth’s surface in all weather conditions. The investment is expected to be matched by industry.
Large-scale demonstrations of low-carbon vehicles, smart energy grids and green buildings received ?25m of the money, with ?13m going to a high-performance computing facility called Archer.
The extra cash brings the government’s investment in science to ?495m since last year. Ministers claimed to have frozen the science budget in the 2010 spending review, but left scientists effectively ?1.7bn poorer by redefining what the budget covered.
In his speech on Tuesday, Osborne said: “At a time of difficult choices, we made ours last year when we committed to protect the science budget.” He went on to confirm nearly half a billion pounds for scientific projects, from “supercomputing and satellite technology to a world-beating animal health laboratory”. Only ?200m of the investment is new, however.
Scientists welcomed the extra funds but warned ministers that further investment was needed to put science and engineering at the heart of Britain’s plans for economic recovery.
“The repeated references to science and innovation in the chancellor’s speech show a commitment to science and engineering being the basis for a sustainable economic recovery, but it will only happen if we are willing to invest heavily, like many of our competitors,” said Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society. “Today’s announcements must be the start of that additional investment rather than just a one-off.”
A further ?61m has been earmarked for research councils to spend on science facilities and other crucial infrastructure.
“Politicians of all stripes keep talking about ‘rebalancing the economy’ and moving towards high-tech manufacturing instead of relying on consumer debt,” said Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. “David Cameron discussed it at the Science Museum this month. These words have to be turned into action, so it’s really encouraging for the UK economy that last year’s cuts are being slowly reversed. Investment in science and engineering is vital if we’re to achieve sustainable growth.”
He added: “Today’s extra cash is the latest in a string of announcements since the spending review, which gives me hope that the Chancellor realises we must stay ahead of the curve on research and development. It’s an area that the UK is uniquely placed to benefit from if we invest wisely, and we now need to see a genuine strategy from our political leaders about how we’re going to put science and engineering at the heart of our economic recovery.”