Dear Dr Cable,

We are writing to express our deep concern about reports that the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills is considering cuts to the ring-fenced science funding because of budget pressures arising from changes in the higher education policy in England.

In light of the government’s commitment in the 2010 Spending Review to ring-fence the science budget up to 2015, a protection extended to 2016 in this year’s interim budget statement, we will consider any attempt to drop this commitment as a broken promise and will oppose it vigorously. This includes any strategy that places further items within the ring fence without increasing the overall budget to compensate.

The possibility of cuts will come as a major disappointment to researchers across the country. They have already weathered austere times with a flat cash settlement in 2010 that has eroded the science budget by almost 10% in real terms. With the UK economic outlook now improving, they would be expecting the government soon to be making good on its promise, as George Osborne put it, “to make the UK the best place in the world to do science”. Instead we are faced with reports of cuts of up to £215m, a breach of the promised ring fence. This is particularly disturbing because budgetary pressures arising from HE policy changes are confined to England but may affect researchers throughout the UK.

In addition to harming the scientific infrastructure of the UK in a manner that would be difficult to reverse, reduced funding could have further detrimental effects on the UK R&D and innovation programme which we appreciate the government has been developing. Sudden cuts now for the sake of fixing an unrelated short-term problem could cause far more harm than good.

As you are aware, many of the UK’s top scientists backed our call earlier this year for the government to demonstrate long-term commitment to funding science and engineering as part of a strategy to boost growth. In 2010 we were able to rally widespread public support for UK investment in science from scientists and non-scientists alike, with 35,000 signatures on a petition and a rally outside the Treasury some 2000 strong. We are committed to keeping science and engineering — a jewel in the UK’s crown — in the public eye and high up the political agenda throughout the run-up to the next general election.

We fully support the government’s oft-stated commitment to UK science and agreed in particular with Prime Minister David Cameron when he said, “we can be very proud of our past, but we cannot be complacent about our future.” Those commitments need to be backed by concerted action across government to prevent departmental budget fluctuations from harming Britain’s reputation as an investor in research. We call on the government to ensure that BIS can find ways to meet its obligations to research by maintaining its promised funding in the short term, and in the long-term, increasing it.

Yours sincerely

Dr Jennifer Rohn, Chair, Science is Vital

Prof. Stephen Curry, Vice-chair, Science is Vital

cc: Rt Hon George Osborne, Rt Hon David Willets, Dr Graeme Reid, and published as an open letter on our website

A pdf version of this letter is attached

Categories: Campaign, cuts

2 Responses to Open letter to Vincent Cable, Secretary of State

  1. Steven Boxall says:

    You are too polite to go into details about why there is a pressure on the budgets.

    I have been told that it because private colleges are accepting ‘too many’ people onto ONC and HND courses. Because funding follows the students some of the private colleges are accepting everyone and anyone regardless of the suitability of the students for the courses and the courses for the students. So, we have another example of funds being farmed rather than education being provided, but this is what happens when dogma leads policy formatiom.

  2. Jones says:

    It is the Department for Business, Industry and Skills, and funds are _always_ finite within the current economic paradigm.

    Since the UK is a state-sponsored corporatist economy, and an island nation with pressing strategic issues, it is fitting for those bound by the limitations of present economic systems to ask whether certain funds should be spent boosting the amount of scientific research done or boosting the rate at which ideas are converted into commercial products.

    Comparisons with the US might be misleading because of their much greater spending power. However, in my experience the US does seem to have highly developed processes (backed with a lot of enthusiasm) for moving ideas out of the lab, through prototype, and into products. As far as I can tell from the groups I’ve seen in action, they test EVERY idea in this way, and move quickly. I’m willing to bet the BRIC group of nations have all studied it. The UK process barely exists by comparison – we generate IP well, but then almost forget to generate some rights to sell, never mind pushing an idea through to production within the UK. One reason the latter is hard to do is that finding sufficiently skilled production labour within the UK is hard now, because the industrial base was killed off some decades ago. So filling OND/HNC courses probably made sense to someone in DoBIS.

    The UK has relied for some time upon arguments about comparative advantage within global trade systems to justify being selective (and suitably oddball) about what we concentrate on doing. We are unlikely to compete with the US and BRIC group on volume alone. Thus, it isn’t clear that simply doing more science is the immediate imperative for the economy. So I could understand if (effectively) a portion of the science budget was now being spent instead on improving the processes of conversion of unique IP to rights or domestically manufactured products for sale.

    ScienceIsVital needs to find out whether this is actually what is happening.

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