Spending Review 2020: sector welcomes R&D investment

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s commitment to invest almost £15 billion in the UK research base seen as positive step

Higher education bodies have welcomed the government’s commitment to science, research and development in its Spending Review 2020.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced yesterday [25 November] that the UK government would spend “almost £15 billion” on research and development (R&D) next year “including funding for clinical research to support delivery of new drugs, treatments and vaccines”.

In response to the Government’s Spending Review 2020, Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group said:

“Research and innovation are the best sources of solutions to the biggest challenges facing the UK – beating Covid-19, kickstarting the recovery, and creating a greener, more productive economy – so it is positive to see the government recognising this with an ambitious package to support UK science.

While fiscal prudence is understandable, we urge government to hold its nerve and deliver on the commitment to invest £22bn in R&D by 2024/25 as set out in their roadmap – Dr Tim Bradshaw, Russell Group

“Setting out multi-year funding for science and research shows the government sees the potential benefits this investment can deliver for UK skills and innovation. We look forward to the government setting out additional plans for investment in European research programmes in the coming weeks. While fiscal prudence is understandable, we urge government to hold its nerve and deliver on the commitment to invest £22bn in R&D by 2024/25 as set out in their roadmap.

“Research and innovation can also play a vital role in driving economic renewal in towns and cities across the UK. The shared prosperity and levelling up funds offer an exciting opportunity to turbocharge this impact and support the jobs, high-level skills and local infrastructure that will build our communities back better and stronger.”

The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), which fosters collaborations between higher education and business, said the government was “putting its money where its mouth is”.

“The chancellor has today taken a positive step forward, committing to spending almost £15 billion on research and development (R&D). He has rightly acknowledged that R&D is paramount in the nation’s recovery from Covid-19,” said Dr Joe Marshall, chief executive of the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB).

“Whilst almost all announcements made today offered funding for one year only, the chancellor sent an important signal of the importance of steady, long-term funding for research. He made a multi-year commitment for an uplift of more than £400 million on average for UK Research and Innovation per year for the next three years.

Experience from the 2008 recession shows that nations that invest in R&D and innovation are able to boost productivity, improve livelihoods, and drive forward economic recovery – Dr Joe Marshall, UCUB

“Further investment in UK research will allow us to build a more resilient, productive and innovative economy. Indeed, news of the vaccine in the last few weeks alone demonstrate the social and economic value of R&D, and we are pleased the government have realised this. For every £1 spent in R&D, £7 is made in economic and social benefits from helping to attract investment, boosting productivity and creating new jobs. The power of investing in UK research simply cannot be underestimated, but equally the government must also support investment in research development and innovation.”

“The government have put their money where their mouth is and seem to understand that if they are to realise their own ambition for the UK to be a ‘science superpower’ we need this continuous investment in research. Experience from the 2008 recession shows that nations that invest in R&D and innovation are able to boost productivity, improve livelihoods, and drive forward economic recovery. The Government have however previously committed to spending £22 billion on R&D in 2024/25 and it is imperative for the nation’s future, that they do not lose sight of this promise.”

However, the University and College Union (UCU) criticised the Spending Review for not supporting education staff.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: “Today’s statement recognises the importance of education and skills as vital in our recovery as we move forward from the current health crisis but the problems in the education sector are of this government’s own making after years of underfunding and ever rising workloads.

“This spending review was a missed opportunity to invest in rebuilding the further education sector to meet the country’s skills needs after years of funding cuts, jobs losses and pay cuts.  We now need investment in the education workforce to ensure the sector can recruit and retain the staff it needs to deliver on the government’s skills ambitions.

“The Government is wasting the opportunity to invest and rebuild from the current health crisis. Instead of talking about pay restraint, which will further damage the morale of the very people that have picked up the pieces of this government’s failings during the pandemic. We need investment to ensure that we have the skills to get the country moving again.

“The pandemic has taught us that it’s public services and key workers that are the people who hold our country together – they shouldn’t pay for this government’s mistakes.”


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