From the TUC

Science Funding: Let’s wait for the details

20 Oct 2010, by in Economics

It appears from the headlines that one of the few winners from today’s Comprehensive Spending Review was the science budget. The Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that the science budget has been frozen in cash terms, at £4.6bn per year. It is, indeed, welcome that Vince Cable and David Willetts, the Business Secretary and Science Minister, have argued the case for science as a major engine of economic growth in recent months and seem to have had their voices heard.

That isn’t the whole story, of course. The BBC’s Science Correspondent, Pallab Ghosh, estimates that a frozen cash budget amounts to a real terms cut of 10% over four years. We are still in for tough times ahead.

More specifically, the TUC welcomes the news, announced on Sunday and reiterated today, that the Diamond Synchrotron facility in Oxfordshire will receive £69m of public funding over the spending review period. We support the decision to maintain Medical Research Council funding in real terms and to allocate £220m to the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation. In his speech, George Osborne also announced that the molecular biology laboratory in Cambridge and the Animal Health Institute in Pilbright would continue to be funded. Again, these decisions are commended by the TUC.

However, those watching the speech, expecting the most savage cuts since the Second World War, were treated to a statement that made today’s CSR sound benign. We can expect that in the coming days, the full details will emerge and the true pain will become apparent. With that in mind, whilst welcoming the good news described above, I will wait for full details before giving an overall response. What is more, as some high profile science projects have been mentioned by name, I am naturally concerned for those that have not yet been referred to. Isis, the world leading research centre for physical and life sciences, also in Oxfordshire, was not mentioned in George Osborne’s speech and there is no word of it on the BIS website either. No mention either of the UK’s continued commitment to CERN, which hosts the Large Hadron Collider, currently conducting the biggest science project in the world. That is not to say that either are necessarily under threat; but I’ll be happier if and when it is confirmed that they are safe.

In the meantime, well done to those in the science community, in organisations like the excellent Campaign for Science and Engineering, and those of my trade union colleagues who have been putting the case for science in recent months. At one time, we were predicting cuts of 25 per cent in the science budget. The fact that that did not happen was in no small part to the work you have done.