From the TUC

Once more: science cuts threaten future economic success

01 Oct 2010, by in Economics, International

This morning’s Guardian lays bare the true cost to UK plc if, as many predict, the Government goes ahead with large scale science cuts in the Comprehensive Spending Review. An investigation by the paper found that leading researchers, including an Oxford professor of physics and a stem cell researcher seeking a cure for the most common form of blindness, are set to quit the UK. Professor Don Nutbeam, Vice Chancellor of Southampton University, expects a steady loss of researchers and believes Britain’s world ranking in science could be undone in five years.

Where will these researchers go?

The United States looks a good bet, with its planned two per cent rise in science spending in 2010. Or Germany, where the education and research ministry will have an extra 7.2 per cent next year. Or perhaps France, with its 5.3 per cent increase in education and research spending last year. Or they could go to Singapore, following several students from University College London, along with the stem cell researcher quoted above, Dr Carlos Gias, who has said he may go there.

As the UK seeks future economic growth from advanced manufacturing and the knowledge economy, with particular opportunities in green technology, we look to those countries that are already succeeding in these fields. The US, of course, has economy of scale on its side, being a vast single market with which it is difficult for any middle sized European country to compete. But we have admired German success for decades. The TUC has recently noted that France suffered less in the economic downturn that other European countries and we have sought to learn some lessons from that. As for Singapore, this is a country of just five million people, but which boasts one of the fastest rates of growth in the world. All of these countries see science is a vital investment, to be cherished, not a cost to be cut by up to 25 per cent.

The Comprehensive Spending Review will take place on 20th October and then or shortly afterwards the Government will publish a White Paper on Growth. What will be in it? Heaven knows! There has been so little discussion of it that it almost qualifies as a state secret. The one thing we can surmise is that we will have a growth strategy with no money to fund it. The Coalition Government has a massive cuts agenda but has no narrative on economic growth.

Ironically, today’s Guardian also reports its latest opinion poll, showing a Labour lead of two per cent, due less to a Labour bounce and more to a slump in Conservative support. Specifically, 43 per cent of respondents say the cuts have gone too far, compared with 37 per cent who think the balance is right. Those figures were 39 per cent and 38 per cent respectively in July. And the major cuts haven’t even happened yet.

The public are starting to understand what the TUC has said for some time. Large spending cuts threaten not just our social fabric, but our economic recovery as well. It is not too late. The Coalition Government could still take note.