CaSE analyses what the new Prime Minister might mean for science and engineering
What does Liz Truss mean for science and engineering?
07 Sep 2022
The leadership contest has finally come to an end. Liz Truss has been elected as the new leader of the Conservative Party and yesterday became Prime Minister. Throughout the leadership race there was little mention of science, research and innovation by Truss or her supporters. But her views on growth, China and climate change could indicate what we might expect for UK research. This all comes at an important time for UK science policy: the past year has seen welcome commitments on a three-year spending review allocation for R&D, a long-term settlement for UK Research & Innovation, and a significant increase in wider Departmental R&D budgets. Now is the time to stay the course and reap the rewards of that investment.
The economy and tax
At a time when the UK is facing a serious cost of living crisis, much of the political focus in the short term is going to be on alleviating this and dealing with soaring energy bills. After the immediate crisis the focus will shift to driving growth in the economy. Liz Truss has said she is committed to economic growth, but will she back research and innovation as the stimulus for growth? Truss’ campaign has focused on promises of tax cuts, including scrapping a rise in corporation tax. This could mean putting businesses first, through cutting taxes on businesses in an effort to incentivise investment and innovation. At CaSE, we have long argued that one of the best ways the Government can incentivise private investment is by setting out a long-term plan for public expenditure on R&D and sticking to it. This would give businesses the confidence they need to make investment decisions by showing the world that the UK is serious about R&D.
One area that Liz Truss has focused on is defence priorities and national security. She has pledged to increase defence spending from 2% today to 3% of GDP by 2030. She has also promised an update of the Integrated Review of defence and foreign policy to reflect the evolving geopolitical landscape. This may signal a desire to build up more of the UK’s sovereign capability to protect critical infrastructure and the economy. A greater focus on sovereign capability may indicate a more strategic approach to research, and a shift in the balance of funding towards Government R&D. Earlier this year, CaSE published a report highlighting the important role public sector research establishments play in the research ecosystem and how they are a vital resource to be considered to deliver on the UK’s R&D ambitions.
Liz Truss has promised to deliver Net Zero by 2050, and has acknowledged the important role of innovative technologies, research, and manufacturing in delivering this ambition. The UK is already using its significant R&D capability in academia and industry to address pressing national issues, such as developing new energy capability that will alleviate the cost of living and climate change, in a way that will improve people’s lives and livelihoods. CaSE will continue to press for long-term commitment on public investment in R&D to address such societal challenges.
The UK’s membership of Horizon Europe hangs in the balance. While she was Foreign Secretary, disagreement between Truss and the European Union over the Northern Ireland Protocol hampered the UK and EU’s ability to reach a deal on the Horizon science research programme. In August, Truss launched formal consultation proceedings with the EU over the issue. We have previously written about the international nature of science and what stands to be lost should the UK and EU fall out rather than agree to work together. A new prime minister offers a chance for a reset in EU relations and finalising association to Horizon Europe through the consultation proceedings – a win-win for Europe and the UK – would be a great first step.
At CaSE, we believe that the concept of pursuing an R&D-rich future will persist. It is a concept that has been backed by the Government for many years and through several administrations, and is similarly backed by opposition parties. In their report titled ‘Science and Technology Superpower: More than a slogan?’, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee urged the incoming prime minister to stick to the Government’s pledge to increase the proportion of GDP spent on research and development to 2.4% by 2027.
As political power turns to a new leader and a new administration, CaSE will be working hard to seize the opportunity to put science and engineering at the heart of the UK’s future. We will be keeping a close eye on developments over the next few days and weeks, as a new Government is appointed and policies begin to be announced.
About Liz Truss
Elizabeth Truss became Prime Minister on 6 September 2022. She was elected Conservative MP for South-West Norfolk in 2010.
Truss was appointed Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs on 15 September 2021. In December 2021, Liz Truss took over responsibility for the UK’s relationship with the EU after the Brexit Minister Lord Frost resigned. She was appointed Minister for Women and Equalities on 10 September 2019.
Previously, she has been Secretary of State for International Trade from July 2019 to September 2021; Chief Secretary to the Treasury from June 2017 until July 2019; Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice from July 2016 until June 2017; Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from July 2014 until July 2016; and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare from September 2012 until July 2014.
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