Science & Environment

Science cuts 'risk economic harm'

Protesters including scientists gather outside the Treasury in London to protest Government cuts to science (PA)
Science advocates went on to the streets of London at the weekend to protest at probable cuts

Cuts in UK government spending on research and development (R&D) are likely to do immense damage to the UK economy, a new report claims.

The document has been produced for Research Councils UK (RCUK), the body that manages public research funds.

It warns that a cut of £1bn in the amount of money it distributes for scientific research would lead to a fall in GDP of £10bn.

The government says it recognises the importance of science to the economy.

However, it has consistently stated that research - just as with every other area of expenditure - has to stand up to rigorous scrutiny.

The coalition will announce the details of its Comprehensive Spending Review next week.

All government departments, including Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which controls most of the nation's research budget, have been told to prepare for cuts of 25%, and perhaps more, as the coalition tries to get to grips with the nation's finances.

The RCUK report argues that the quality of the UK science base has been instrumental in attracting business and industry to conduct R&D in partnership with public sector researchers, and the fruits of that union are important drivers of business productivity and economic growth.

It warns that large cuts in public funding now would damage this success story.

In addition, the report says that a reduction in governmental R&D would actually have a double-whammy effect by also depressing private R&D activity.

"All the evidence suggests that public expenditure on research actually encourages the private sector to spend more and increases the productivity of private sector spending," said Romesh Vaitilingam, the report's author.

"This is not just special pleading; there are some long-term issues here. This is about the benefits which accrue to the whole of society, not just the research sector," he told BBC News.

The matter of science funding has become a hot topic in recent days, and the debate was amplified by the announcement last week that the excellence of UK research had been honoured with two Nobel Prizes.

At the weekend, hundreds of scientists gathered outside the Treasury in central London to protest against the expected cuts.

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