Osborne announces £600m boost for science

5 December 2012
By Sofia Mitra-Thakur
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Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne walks with Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne walks with Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander

A £600 million boost for science announced in Chancellor George Osborne's Autumn Statement will be used to develop cutting-edge technologies with the potential to create wealth.

Spread over three years, the extra cash will help pay for facilities and equipment in areas such as advanced materials, synthetic biology, big data computing and energy storage.

It is the biggest single new research spending commitment since the coalition government came into power.

The announcement was warmly welcomed by Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE).

He said: "We were hoping that the Chancellor would continue his trend of supporting science and engineering, and are really delighted with this new commitment - the total amount of new funding since 2010 has now reached almost £2 billion.

"Osborne's consistency shows that he understands the UK must invest in becoming a hi-tech nation.

In the coming decades we won't be able to compete internationally on natural resources or cheap labour, so the government's plan to build British excellence in areas like synthetic biology and energy-efficient computing instead is absolutely critical.

"We applaud the Chancellor for supporting not only fundamental research, but also making science a bigger part of the UK's industrial strategy."

The boost to Research Council infrastructure is aimed at capital investment which is used to pay for facilities rather than running costs.

In the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review, annual funding for science and research was ring-fenced at £4.6 billion.

However, this did not cover capital expenditure, attracting criticism from the science community.

Since then the government has poured an additional £1.515 billion into the capital side of science.

Science minister David Willetts said: "Science and innovation are fundamental to our economy and this £600 million takes the total capital investment announced since the Comprehensive Spending Review to over £1.5 billion.

"It will support hi-tech areas where the UK's research base and industry can gain a competitive advantage, like big data and energy efficient computing, synthetic biology and advanced materials.

"This will drive growth, create the jobs of the future and help us get ahead in the global race."

Industry leaders gave a mixed response to other areas of the budget.

CBI Director-General, John Cridland, said: “The CBI has been crying out for real action on infrastructure, investment and exports.

“£5 billion on near-term infrastructure, like the tube to Battersea, half a billion a year tax relief for small firms, and £1.5 billion extra export support should boost investment and create jobs.

“The government now has everything to prove by delivering. Businesses need to see the Chancellor’s words translated into building sites on the ground.

“It is no surprise that after a difficult year the economic realities dictate that austerity and debt reduction will take longer.

“The Chancellor has stuck to his guns on deficit reduction - avoiding deeper cuts or more borrowing in order to retain international credibility.”

Dr Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, added: "It is welcome news for manufacturers around the country that the annual investment allowance in plant and machinery will rise from £25,000 to £250,000."

The British Property Federation (BPF) has criticised the Chancellor's decision to postpone a necessary review of the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) regime, but welcomed the abolishment of the Performance League Table.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: "There appears to be an acceptance that there are deep issues with the CRC, as industry has long-maintained – so the effective postponement of a full review is disappointing.  

"The removal of the performance league table is to be welcomed as we believed its metrics were not effective to incentivise improvement.

"While the league table performed an important function in elevating energy efficiency decision making to board level, we think that mandatory emissions reporting could perform this function just as well.

"We also welcome the government’s current approach to start with listed companies before expanding more widely.

"Linking the allowance price to the retail price index leaves some question marks around the carbon floor price mechanism HM Treasury intends to introduce."

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