UK investment in R&D plunges

1 min read

So much for the UK becoming a global scientific super-power!

New figures point to massive fall in research and development investment of almost a fifth since 2014, according to a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research.

The report found that the UK’s share of global investment in R&D projects – including in health and life sciences – had fallen sharply from 4.2% eight years ago to 3.4% in 2019.

A disappointing set of figures which highlight the disconnect between government rhetoric and reality.

Since 2014 successive prime ministers, and there’s been an awful lot of those in the past few months, have said that investment would be a central plank of their growth strategies. From David Cameron to Boris Johnson there’s been a push for the country to be a post-Brexit “science superpower”.

In fact, out latest PM, Rishi Sunak pledged to boost public and private sector investment in R&D as a central way to increase the productivity of the British economy earlier this year when he was chancellor.

But rather than a super-power the UK has tumbled out of the top ten and now ranks 11th in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development group of wealthy nations for total R&D investment as a percentage of GDP.

The IPPR said that, had the UK’s 2014 share of global R&D investment been maintained, it would have been £18bn – or 26% – higher in 2019. More depressing than that is the fact that if the UK was to match the spending of Israel, the current global leader, we’d need to be spending an additional £62bn this year from public and private sources.

Business investment has fallen significantly, despite a low rate of corporation tax, and is being attributed to economic and political uncertainty about the UK – it’s certainly not been helped by Brexit or the Covid pandemic, and in all likelihood will have taken another hit as a result of the recent political problems of the UK government.

Speculation is also mounting that as part of its efforts to cut the burgeoning budget deficit the government’s R&D budget will take a big hit.

The chasm between rhetoric and delivery has never been starker. What really is the chance of the government’s target for total R&D investment – from public and private sources – reaching 2.4% of GDP by 2027?