The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP
Minister for Universities and Science
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
1 Victoria Street
London SW1H 0ET
Wednesday 26 November 2014
Dear Dr Clark,
We are writing to you on behalf of Science is Vital, the grassroots organisation concerned about scientific research in the UK (scienceisvital.org.uk). Science is Vital has a base of about 35,000 scientists and supporters of science, with strong media contacts, and we are active linking the public, scientists and politicians. Our position is that science is vital for the UK economy, and our aim is to ensure public investment in science and to promote policies that will support an environment in which research can flourish.
We were troubled to read that you would not commit a future Conservative-led government to maintaining the cash ring fence on the current core research budget, nor commit to increased investment (interview in Research Fortnight, 12 November 2014). Even under the ring fence, the science budget has decreased by around 10% in real terms over the course of this parliament, and the effects of such managed decline in science funding are already being felt. Last year, Science is Vital found that 85% of scientists we questioned were worried about funding, and over half reported a drop in grant success rates since 2010 (report presented to BIS, 17 June 2013). This real-terms erosion of the budget is at risk of decreasing the UK’s international scientific standing: our spending as a percentage of GDP is already below the EU-28 average, and that EU average is increasing in real terms even as ours falls.
We applaud the government’s recent commitment to increasing capital funding for scientific infrastructure, but creating and maintaining facilities with insufficient operational funding to staff and fully utilize them (as is the current situation with the ISIS neutron and muon source in Oxfordshire) is far from optimal and may lead to further waste. What is more, we fear that even this additional funding will not make up the overall shortfall in the science budget. Without a healthy and sustained core budget, UK scientists will find it increasingly difficult to sustain the internationally envied vitality of British science and to help solve the many problems facing our society that will requires new discoveries and development work.
Science is Vital believes that the UK should set a goal of investing 0.8% of GDP in public-funded R&D, in line with the G8 average. This aspiration was set out in a letter to the Telegraph last year signed by 50 of Britain’s best-known and most distinguished scientists, including Lord Martin Rees, Professor Brian Cox, Sir Paul Nurse, Professor Stephen Hawking and many Nobel laureates and Fellows of the Royal Society.
Over the past four years we have worked with our members and the wider science community to understand the damaging effects of under-funding and immigration policies. We would like to share with you how our large and politically active community feels about these subjects. We had a very productive relationship with your predecessor and we would very much like to continue that with you.
Please let us know when might be a convenient time to meet with me and a few of my colleagues.
Dr Jenny Rohn
Chair, Science is Vital
Prof. Stephen Curry
cc: Published as an open letter on our website