The new Science and Technology Committee has launched its first inquiry today, into the Science Budget. Speaking at the Committee’s first evidence hearing on Wednesday 15 July, BIS Minister, Jo Johnson MP, refused to be drawn on whether the future budget would continue to be ring-fenced.
Chair of the Committee, Nicola Blackwood MP said:
"The UK remains a world leader in science, but we risk falling behind if the Government gets decisions on science funding wrong. The country currently spends 1.7% of GDP on science and research, that’s below the OECD average of 2.4% and well behind the 2.8% and 2.9% spent by the US and Germany.
If the UK is to compete in the modern world it must remain at the forefront of research and innovation. Our future growth and prosperity will be influenced by the decisions that the Government takes on the size and distribution of the Science Budget in the forthcoming Spending Review."
The Science Budget (PDF 990.45 KB) has since 2010 been ring-fenced as a separate budget within the BIS departmental budget. The 'resource' (running cost) element of the Science Budget has been fixed since then at a cash-flat £4.6b a year—around 6% less in 2015-16 in real terms than 2010-11 as a result of inflation. That budget is distributed in two main channels under a 'Dual Support System': to the UK-wide Research Councils (£2.6b) which in turn provide grants for specific projects and programmes, and to the higher education funding council for England (£1.6b) (higher education funding is devolved) which provides block grant funding to universities. The remainder of the Science Budget includes funding for the national academies (£0.09b), including the Royal Society and British Academy, as well as for the UK Space Agency. Other government departments, notably Health and Defence, also fund research and development outside the Science Budget. The capital expenditure element of the Science Budget is smaller, at £0.86b in 2015-16, and has fluctuated year-on-year.
The March 2015 Budget announced an inflation-proofed capital budget of £1.1b a year up to 2020-21. The Spending Review, expected to be concluded in the autumn, will set budgets (including the resource Science Budget) for 2016-17 onwards.
The S&T Committee has decided to undertake an inquiry into the Science Budget, ahead of the Spending Review. It took oral evidence on 15 July from Jo Johnson MP, the minister for science, as well as national academies, and will have further sessions in the autumn. The Committee invites written submissions by 26 August, including on the following issues:
- The extent to which the current ring-fence arrangements, and the separate arrangements for determining 'resource' and 'capital' allocations, have produced coherent UK science and research investment;
- The extent to which science and research expenditure in Government departments (outside the Science Budget) complements or competes with the Science Budget;
- The need for and rationale for any adjustment to the trajectory of future Government expenditure on science and research, and what would be gained from an increase (or lost from a reduction) compared with current expenditure levels;
- Whether the current distributions of the budget between particular types of expenditure and between different organisations is appropriate for future requirements, and achieves an appropriate balance between pure and applied research;
- What level of Government expenditure on science and research is needed:
- to significantly drive the overall level of such expenditure in the economy, through synergies between government and private sector investment (including overseas investment); and
- to optimally balance its benefits against the opportunity cost of government expenditure foregone on other public services.
- Whether the Government's expenditures on aspects of science and research are consistent with other government policies, including the Industrial Strategies and the Eight Great Technologies and fiscal incentive policies for research investment;
- The extent to which any increase or reduction in Government expenditure on science and research will have an impact on the UK's relative position among competitor states.
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