Monday 21 November 2016 was a definitive day for science in the UK considering what the Prime Minister Mrs Theresa May was up to.
At the Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre, she opened up two buildings to support genomics work, a subject I keep close to my heart. The new Bridget Ogilvie building will have sequencing facilities both for the Sanger Centre and for the Genomics England 100,000 project and the Biodata Innovation Centre will house start up genomics companies. The same day she spoke at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference. Now back in October the CBI made recommendations to the government for an increase in funding for science, and for a 50% increase in Research and Development (R&D) tax credits. Thankfully for us they took that on board.
At the CBI conference, Mrs May made announcements to boost science funding in the UK and today these same announcements were delivered in the Autumn Budget by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond. So what were these announcements exactly?
1) The government will increase investment in R&D worth £2 billion per year by 2020.
This is to ensure that businesses remain at the forefront of new technologies and this money will come from the new National Productivity Investment fund of £23 billion marked for funding innovation and infrastructure (such as housing and transport).
2) A fund will be established known as the Industrial Strategy Challenge.
This is to invest in priority technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence and biotechnology to enable research to be turned into an industrial and commercial lead. The fund will be overseen by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the government will be consulted on how best to support these disciplines.
3) They plan to review the current tax credit system for R&D.
Tax credits means that money is taken off the tax to be paid and since 2010 corporation tax (tax on a company’s profits) have been cut and R&D tax credits have been increased. By reviewing the system, they hope to increase more investment into R&D.
In addition to the above, noticing the productivity gap between regional cities and London, they intend to address this and increase productivity of the northern powerhouse, something that a lot of scientists in the Midlands and Yorkshire will definitely appreciate.
These investment changes into science are being recognised across the board. Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK welcomes this news and Campaign for Science and Engineering have responded to the Autumn Budget saying “It is a real boost to see UK strength in science being championed by the Prime Minister and backed with what is the most significant investment in R&D I can remember.” Their report goes into further details on other points raised in the Autumn Budget relating to science, such as the infrastructure investment. Scientists for EU have noticed that the NHS was ignored in the Autumn Budget and it was also a major sticking point if anyone watched Prime Minister Questions prior to the Autumn Budget speech.
As the week progresses, more people will respond to these announcements. But if you want to find out how science will be affected by Brexit then you can always check out the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research inquiry. If you want to read the full Autumn Budget statement, you can read it here and finally if you want to find out how the budget affects areas other than science, you can find out from The Guardian.