The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, used his Budget speech to promise “honesty” about what would be needed to rebalance the economy and claimed he was laying the foundations for a post-pandemic recovery.
Sunak talked at length about making the UK, “the best place in the world for high-growth, innovative companies,” and announced a number of measures intended to encourage business investment and an R&D innovation-led recovery.
But was it anywhere near enough? For many commentators it was a thin statement, even when taking into account the headline grabbing 6 per cent increase in corporation tax.
Commenting CaSE Executive Director Professor Sarah Main said that while there had been a strong innovation theme, with support for innovative firms and the green economy, announcements on science funding were “notably scarce”. She pointed to there being no provision for the UK's agreed participation in Horizon Europe, no specific measures to alleviate Covid pressure on UKRI's budget, or support for research charities – all of which will have a significant impact on the UK's science and research activity.
That’s not to say that there were no announcements of note - the introduction of the Future Fund to support the scaling up of R&D-intensive businesses and the launch of the British Business Bank, to help companies access the capital they need to develop and grow, should be welcomed.
These announcements recognise the potential of high-growth, innovative technology companies to the UK and of the green industrial revolution.
Science has an important role to play in the UK’s recovery and future growth.
However, as Professor Sir Jim McDonald, the President of the Royal Academy of Engineering said, “Our ambitions on net zero, infrastructure and digitalisation are threatened if we do not have the number and diversity of people with engineering and technical skills needed to deliver them.”
That means we should be looking to attract high profile talent from around the world, for sure, but also at the potential of communities in UK regions outside of traditional scientific hubs.
Young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and the government has really got to work at creating opportunities for them – it’s no good talking about levelling up if you don’t deliver on those promises.
For research and innovation to support the UK’s recovery and growth it must start from a strong foundation and that only comes from a talented and educated workforce.