Science spending fell 7.6% in 2010/11, plunging UK further down the league table

Science spending has fallen even faster than expected, with individual departmental spends down 7.6% in the first year of the parliament.


Science spending has fallen even faster than expected, with individual departmental spends down 7.6% in the first year of the parliament, a House of Commons Library study reveals today.

The Guardian reports:

This departmental spend, as it is known, makes up nearly half of all public support for research and development and innovation, and is considered crucial for areas such as advanced engineering skills through the Ministry of Defence and the fast-growing life sciences industry, where the UK is trying to establish an international lead.

As a result, total spending on science activities in 2010-11 – also including the UK’s contribution to the European Union research and development budget – fell by 6.4% when adjusted for inflation.


Since the government ordered a flat cash settlement on the science budget in 2010, researchers have braced themselves for a decline in funds as inflation takes its toll. The cuts within individual departments, which topped more than 40% in some cases, mean even less research than many feared.

Separate figures released by BIS show some of the biggest departmental cuts from 2009-10 to 2010-11. The Department for Transport cut spending on science research and development by one-third, from £82m to £54m; the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, a science-based department currently struggling to control the ash dieback disease, reduced such spending by 17.4% or £33m; and the Ministry of Defence, by far the biggest-spending department for R&D, cut its budget by more than 13% or £239m.

This latest news of cuts to science – which go further than feared and break a coalition pledge to protect spending in this area- will heighten fears the UK will fall further behind our international competitors in the key future growth fields of science, innovation, research and development.

The chart below, compiled using data from the 2011 Innovation Union Scoreboard (pdf), shows the UK’s poor position on R&D expenditure in the public sector compared to the EU average, well behind France, Germany and even crisis-hit Spain and Portugal:

As Left Foot Forward has long reported, the cuts to science not only risk damaging the UK’s global reputation but are a textbook example of the false economy of the government’s placing of small-state ideology above evidence.

As Michael Burke noted more than two years ago on these pages, increased science spending will actually help reduce the deficit:

The argument in favour of scientific research rests not just on its role as general public good. Investment in scientific research has direct, positive consequences not just for the economy but also for public finances. This week Research Councils UK is due to launch a report showing that the multiplier effects for research and development funding is 1:10, that is every £1 billion spent on research increases GDP by £10bn, an enormous pay-off.

This is achieved through increased employment, attracting new investment, increasing efficiency, boosting sales, exports and intellectual property revenues, etc. This assessment of the large ‘multiplier’ attached to scientific research is supported by a host of organisations, including business groups as well as academics.

But all this activity also has an impact on government finances, with every £1bn increase in activity producing £750 million improvement in government finances (comprised of £500m in tax revenues, £250m in lower welfare outlays as people are brought into work and poverty reduced).

Therefore increased R&D spending will help to lower the deficit:

£1bn X 10 X 0.75 = £7.5bn

This is a net improvement to govt. finances of £6.5bn (after the initial £1bn outlay is deducted).

See pp. 25-51 for tables on EU-27 spending; country codes can be found here.

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