Emma Lindsell, Executive Director, Strategy, Performance and Engagement on the challenges and opportunities facing UKRI with the latest budget allocations.
Spending Review Allocations: What Happens Next
16 Feb 2022
It was only a few months ago that my job-share partner Isobel Stephen wrote here about the Government’s Spending Review – the process and what the outcomes might be. The Spending Review gave us the outline of the R&D settlement for the next three years. Since November we, with colleagues in Government, have been working intensively on filling in that sketch.
Without doubt, research and innovation remain central to the biggest challenges we face: post-pandemic recovery, achieving Net Zero and building an inclusive knowledge economy that benefits the whole of the UK. There are some difficult choices to make as we work with our parent department, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), to agree our settlement. But the clear mandate and a multi-year financial commitment from Government at the Spending Review gives a strong signal of confidence in the importance of R&D and a real opportunity to tackle these challenges.
Taking the broad-brush Spending Review and turning it into detailed allocations of funding to specific areas involves a lot of time and expertise from a great many people. But to others, this process can seem invisible, so in this blog I wanted to prise the lid off the “black-box” of this allocations process.
In the simplest terms, as our last blog touched on, money is allocated to UKRI by the Secretary of State, and then those funds are allocated across UKRI on the advice of the UKRI Board.
The allocation of budgets is a normal part of being a publicly funded body. Our Board has been formally commissioned by the BEIS Secretary of State to provide advice on UKRI’s allocation for the next three years (this Spending Review period). Our advice will draw on evidence and analysis to highlight the opportunities, risks and implications that Ministers should be aware of when considering how to deliver Government priorities and how to translate this into decisions of what to fund, when and how. The advice will include how we plan to work with our community to deliver on the Government’s Innovation Strategy and R&D Roadmap, and to reach towards the 2.4% target for R&D by 2027. And our advice will set out how to balance across our extremely wide-ranging portfolio in order to meet the long-term vision in our forthcoming UKRI five-year Strategy, securing economic and societal benefits right across the UK, and globally.
We’ve published a process map that lays out the steps we’re working to, we’re currently at stages 5 on the map: Developing comprehensive UKRI allocations advice and finalising the BEIS R&D budget and partner body allocations, which are happening in parallel.
Recognising that the window between us receiving our budget allocation and our Board’s advice to the Secretary of State was likely to be small, we were determined to engage with our community on the choices we would face, before we had much sense of our budget envelope. We have therefore been developing our five-year Strategy, which we hope to publish this Spring, through convening a fascinating series of roundtables and meetings with stakeholders from across our communities to shape our proposed themes and priorities. Feedback and advice from our incredible array of Council and Board members has also informed our Strategy and anchors our overarching allocations advice.
R&D Policy Landscape
We are, of course, very aware that this budget allocation process is happening at a time when, from an R&D policy perspective, there are an awful lot of other moving parts. The Minister for Science, Research and Innovation laid out his priorities in a New Year’s twitter thread, and we have seen the publication of a number of different strategies including the UK Innovation Strategy, People and Culture Strategy, and the Levelling Up White Paper, to name but a few.
I also know some of you remain anxious about the UK’s formal association into Horizon Europe. For the first wave of eligible, successful applicants who are unable to sign grant agreements with the EU prior to formalisation of the UK association, guaranteed funding is available through us. Guidance on the more detailed terms and scope of this guarantee, and how to access this, is published and UKRI are ready to help with any queries via firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, there are three separate but synergistic reviews running at the moment: Professor Sir Paul Nurse is looking at the sustainability of the research landscape, Professor Adam Tickell at bureaucracy and Sir David Grant at UKRI specifically. I’m confident that all three will offer Government and UKRI valuable recommendations that can help us foster a research and innovation system that is more effective, efficient and resilient. This will help us sustain the progress we in UKRI have made towards strengthening and adapting our organisation to meet our ambitions and those of our communities and government.
Beyond the Spending Review
This huge amount of activity illustrates both the importance that Government places on R&D, and the complexity of the environment in which we are working to allocate Spending Review funds to areas of investment. But that is why we are focused, steadfastly, on encouraging a thriving research and innovation system in the UK and maximising the benefit of this public investment. It is by taking a long-term view that we steward ourselves and our partners towards our common goals, balancing across the breadth and depth of the R&D system, and have the agility to respond and deliver for our community and for Ministers, when priorities or contexts shift.
And our job is far from done when the allocations are published. For us, and for the vast majority of you, that is only the beginning, as we work together to harness the very best outcomes from the investments being made. Isobel and I therefore look forward to working with you to listen, learn, explain and iterate the choices ahead for UKRI, and for the R&D system, to flourish.
Emma Lindsell, Executive Director, Strategy, Performance and Engagement at UKRI, job shares with Isobel Stephen
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