UK pledges cash for science

A long-term plan to stimulate science high on the agenda, the chancellor says

Jan 26, 2004
Stephen Pincock(spincock@the-scientist.com)

A long-term plan for science funding will be a key component of Britain's spending review for 2004, Chancellor Gordon Brown told a meeting in London on Monday (January 26).

Brown said the government aimed “to make Britain the best location for research and development and for innovation.” This is something it already encourages, he said, by spending £1.25 billion annually renewing Britain's science base, offering tax credits for research and development, and other measures.

“I can announce today… our commitment to make a long-term plan for science funding over the next decade a central feature of our 2004 spending review,” he told the Advancing Enterprise conference.

There is pressure on the government at present to keep public spending in check, something Brown acknowledged. “I have announced that while meeting all our commitments and our fiscal rules, the rate of spending growth in the next spending round will be lower than in this round.”

But science was one of Britain's strengths in a global market and should be encouraged, he said. “It is precisely these British qualities—our global reach, our scientific genius, and now our stability—that are the vital assets for winning in a more harshly competitive global economy,” he said.

The Royal Society, Britain's independent science academy, gave a cautious thumbs-up to the idea of a plan for science funding that extended beyond the usual 3-year spending round—assuming it wasn't a decrease in funds.

“We welcome the notion of longer-term funding for science in the UK, as that sort of stability is useful to the scientific community,” a spokesman said. The society is reserving a full judgment for when details emerge, presumably later in the year, he added.

According to the Financial Times, a strong theme of the London meeting is the link between universities and entrepreneurship to boost productivity. “Richard Lambert, former editor of the Financial Times, will deliver a speech emphasizing the importance for the economy of universities working more closely with businesses. Alison Richard, the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, will also focus on ways to bridge the gap,” the newspaper said.