Budget boost to science spending disappoints

2 min read

While the Budget saw an increase in science R&D spending to £20bn a year by 2024, that was £2bn less than Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, had promised last year. The £22bn target set out in 2020 will now be reached two years later in 2026-27.

While the announcement disappointed many Sunak did make good on plans to invest £800m in the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria), initially backed by the former No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings, that is intended to support and fund high-risk, high-reward technologies.

Reaction to the Budget was mixed. Some were disappointed at the delay at reaching the £22bn target while others welcomed the commitment to more sustained levels of investment.

Speaking to the BBC. Prof Sir Adrian Smith, President of the UK's Royal Society, suggested that the Budget had sent out a positive signal.

"It is not absolutely ideal. But we are grown-ups. There are real pressures on the economy, but the government is saying that it really does recognise that R&D [research and development] is absolutely vital," he said.

Commenting on the commitment to invest £20 billion, CaSE Assistant Director Dr Daniel Rathbone said: "The Spending Review is a positive outcome for UK science and engineering. The Chancellor has shown that he gets the powerful arguments being made by the sector that a high skill, innovative economy is the 'only route' to securing prosperity and well-being for the entire UK. He has rightly placed research and innovation at the heart of his plan for growth."

However, Rathbone went on to say that with the rest of the world powering ahead on R&D, it was disappointing that the Chancellor had to delay the £22bn target. “To achieve their stated ambition of investing 2.4% of GDP in R&D by 2027, the government will need to re-double its efforts to maintain business confidence and investment to ensure this goal becomes a reality."

The increase in R&D will be worth around £5bn by the end of this Parliament, and that represents an increase of 33 per cent on the current research budget.

Some £2bn of this increase is earmarked for membership of the EU's collaborative research programme, Horizon Europe. To date, Europe has been slow to confirm the UK’s involvement and it’s thought that is because the programme has been caught up in the wider negotiations with the EU over the status of Northern Ireland.

Despite the government’s apparent commitment to increasing spend on R&D as a proportion of GDP, it still lags a long way behind the OECD average.

The Budget does, however, offer a timetable and an increase in science spending and gives a boost to confidence in the UK as a place in which to invest.

It has to be hoped that it will help to stimulate innovation and give the wider UK economy a boost, as it continues to recover from the economic shock of the pandemic.