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What’s ahead for R&D funding?

17 Oct 2022

Our Assistant Director, Daniel Rathbone, takes stock of the current political climate and what it means for R&D

What has been going on?

Even by recent standards, there has been a lot of political and economic turbulence over the last few days and weeks. I started writing this post last week and when I came back to work on Monday morning I had to delete it all and start again!

Cuts to come

It is now clear that the UK is facing significant economic problems, with global headwinds significantly exacerbated by last month’s ‘mini budget’. We now have a new Chancellor in place, Jeremy Hunt, who has reversed almost all of the policies in the ‘mini budget’ and has said today that “all departments will need to redouble their efforts to find savings and some areas of spending will need to be cut.” The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said “today’s announcements won’t be enough, by themselves, to plug the gap in the government’s fiscal plans.” So it looks like there are spending cuts to come in the fiscal statement due on 31st October.

So what does it mean for R&D?

Given how much has changed in the last few days (including the Chancellor) it is hard to put complete faith in previous Government statements. Which is unfortunate because in response to a question just last Tuesday from former Science Minister, George Freeman, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Richard Fuller) said:

“I am happy to confirm […] that we will abide by the spending review 2021 decisions, and that that includes funding for core Innovate UK programmes, for association to Horizon Europe and for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency.”

That commitment was repeated by the new Science Minister, Nusrat Ghani MP, at her first appearance before the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee last week.

As a sector, I think we have to proceed on the basis that everything is once again up for review and that increased research spending is at risk. Here at CaSE we have put together a short briefing on the evidence base that shows public investment leads to economic growth and prosperity, as well as helping to solve the problems of the future.

Investment in R&D and innovation is not a tap that you can turn on and off; it requires a long term commitment. Despite all the turmoil, the Government has said its focus is still on generating growth. While we might be heading into an economic downturn, if R&D investment is protected now, it will help to accelerate recovery when it comes.