Is British science facing a double whammy?

1 min read

After the shambles of the Government’s mini-budget, it’s been reported that the OBR is forecasting a black-hole, worth anything up to £60bn-£70bn, in the government’s finances.

According to independent forecasts public finances are set to deteriorate significantly, so our new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is said to be looking at significant public sector spending cuts to start balancing the books – up to £40bn over the next three financial years.

So, with those kinds of cutbacks in the pipeline there are, understandably, growing concerns that perhaps the government’s commitment to R&D is not as safe as it was with many commentators speculating that capital investment may be targeted, with cuts to R&D.

As CaSE Executive, Professor Sarah Main, has warned, “The Government’s plan for growth needs a cast iron commitment to R&D at its heart. R&D investment supports the innovators, inventors and people with wealth-creating ideas that will deliver the growth the Government is seeking.”

Any cuts to R&D budgets would present a real threat to growth, which is at the heart of the Government’s strategy for the UK economy.

Worries about investment also come at a time when the future of British science is becoming increasingly gloomy as a growing number of academics give up any hope that the government will be able to negotiate membership of the Horizon Europe programme.

We’ve had three months without a science minister, one was appointed recently, and negotiations appear to have been allowed to drift and it now appears that the government is no longer interested in, or committed to, a deal on associate membership.

Consequently, British scientists are warning that the loss of membership could have a serious impact on the future of UK science and research.

Talented scientists are no longer coming to the UK as they see the environment as being too ‘risky’ and collaborative research projects are now being put at risk.

Last year, the government set aside £6.9bn for association with the Horizon scheme, or for a UK-based “Plan B”, but there are now worries that that funding will be cut as inflation soars and spending needs to be cut.

A failure to agree associate membership could also result in a significant movement of scientists out of the UK, with high-calibre researchers leaving and future research projects, collaborations and networks postponed, cancelled, or not even considered.

Post-Brexit UK science looks poorer, faces being cut adrift and far from a scientific powerhouse is now not even a ‘destination of choice’ among many scientists, researchers or students.