Ex-ministers raise stakes over science cuts

By Alex Stevenson

Former science ministers David Sainsbury and William Waldegrave have united to warn Britain risks relegation from the ‘economic premier league’ if investment in scientific research falters.

The pair, who served in Labour and Conservative governments respectively, came together to back a Royal Society report on the state of Britain’s innovation economy.

Its stark assessment warns that Britain will face decades of economic decline if it does not maintain the country’s current position – widely viewed as being second in the world – on scientific research.

With the government recently announcing university cuts totalling £600 million, contrasting with France’s new ?35 billion investment in the knowledge economy, the situation appears bleak.

“Times are tough at the moment but that is exactly when you need to invest in the future and focus spending where you already have an advantage,” Lord Waldegrave said.

“If we cut science now, just as the benefits of nearly 20 years of consistent policy are really beginning to bear fruit, we will seriously damage our economic prospects.”

Lord Sainsbury argued Britain had no choice but to back science, as the country could not hope to compete with emerging economies like China’s on the basis of low wages.

“Science and innovation must, therefore, be the basis of the strategy for growth which we need to have as we go into a tough period of fiscal consolidation,” he said.

The report calls for a 15-year framework for science and innovation, the prioritisation of investment in scientific skills and infrastructure and an expansion of the research and development tax credit.