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Government R&D hit by disproportionate cuts

10 Oct 2012

CaSE analysis of research and development (R&D) budgets has found evidence of disproportionate cuts – despite suggestions that such spending would be protected.

Whitehall departments have cut their research and development (R&D) budgets disproportionately, a new CaSE investigation has found – despite suggestions that such spending would be protected.

Read exclusive coverage in the Financial Times.

Government funds science through Research Council grants, and by giving research money to universities through Hefce and its equivalents – two kinds of spending jointly referred to as the Science Budget.

But a range Government departments also fund mission-specific research and development (R&D). Some pay for billions of pounds of it every year. In 2010, we were worried that these departmental research budgets might be squeezed as public sector cuts hit.

However the Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said “We’ve been reminding colleagues regularly of the importance of R&D in their own budgets” and “have a feeling that this issue has been understood”.

A new investigation by CaSE, covered in today’s Financial Times, shows that the opposite has happened. Rather than being protected, R&D budgets across Whitehall have been slashed harder than overall spending.

R&D spending provides the evidence base for policy development, helping to develop new ideas as well as evaluate existing ones.  It’s hard to see how this important research would take place without Government investment.

Chart 1: Departments that have made disproportionate cuts to spending on R&D between 2009/10 and 2010/11

Chart 2: Departments that have made cuts to spending on R&D even when there has been an increase in the departmental budget between 2009/10 and 2010/11

What do these cuts mean in terms of the amount of money being spent on R&D?

It’s important to note that not all departments are following this trend – the Department for Energy and Climate Change reduced its spending on R&D by under 1% despite a 6% departmental budget cut.

Commenting on the figures, Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said:

“In 2010, the Government said it was ‘protecting’ the science budget – and then cut it by 12%. They also said that they would try and protect the research spending of Whitehall departments – and now we’ve seen this spending being cut faster and harder than overall budgets. That’s pretty bad news if you like your government to be intelligent and evidence-based, not to mention supportive of the UK’s research base.”

“Given that we desperately need to rebalancing our economy away from debt and towards science and technology, it’s worrying that the Government is neglecting research in this way.”

“We need a Government-wide drive to back R&D, rather than the gradual erosion of support which we’ve seen over the past two years.”


1. Comparisons are between the 2009/10 and 2010/11 overall departmental budgets and departmental R&D budgets.

2. Figures for the overall departmental budgets were taken from the Treasury website:  Figures used are for Departmental Expenditure Limits (DEL) only.

3. Figures for the departmental R&D budgets were taken from this year’s SET Stats:

4. The Department of Health and Department for International Development have not been included in this analysis, as their budgets have been ring-fenced from cuts.

5. Charts 1 and 2 are based on the following figures: