UK’s “disappointing” R&D spending under fire from EU research chief

The European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science today warned ministers Britain risked losing its place as a world-leader in research and development.

The European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science today warned ministers Britain risked losing its place as a world-leader in research and development, describing Pfizer’s decision last week to close its research factory in Kent as a “wake-up call”; a reminder, she says, that innovation needs support all the way up from basic research to the launch of new products.

Her remarks follow the publication of the European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS) last Tuesday, which showed public and business research and development (R&D) expenditure in the UK was below the EU average – in stark contrast to both France and Germany, which were above average. See graphs 1 and 2 below (for key to country abbreviations see here).

Graph 1: Public R&D expenditure

Graph 2: Business R&D expenditure

Ahead of her meetings with universities and science minister David Willetts and Sir John Beddington, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn told this morning’s FT:

“You can take it that I’ll be making a point that…  this is an area, regardless of the cuts which have to be made in other areas of an economy, which needs investment. We have China breathing down our necks; we have the US far ahead of us…

“I think it’s disappointing… that what is being done in France and Germany is not being replicated in the UK. I’m talking about France and Germany substantially increasing their investment in this whole area, while at the same time that same increase in investment is not happening in the UK…

“If Europe stands still, we will see the US disappear into the distance just as we feel emerging nations breathing down our necks.”

Last October, Left Foot Forward reported the concers of scientists that the government’s freezing of the £4.6 billion budget for scientific research – a real-terms cut of 8.9 per cent – could hit the UK’s global reputation, with Professor Evan Parker, of Warwick University’s Department of Physics, warning:

“We are looked to by the scientific world. We are respected for academic excellence, and until recently, we had very well financially supported research and development by the government.

“If we are to keep our global position in pioneering R&D, Westminster politicians must keep up with counterparts such as China, Singapore and even other European member states such as France.

“Germany is now increasing its science budget by seven per cent. President Obama has committed three per cent of American GDP to scientific research – a doubling of the budget as part of the economic stimulus package.

“The general public too must recognise the necessity of financial support and scientific industries to retain pressure on the government to continue adequate financial support.”

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