Government reveals plans for record R&D budget

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The UK government has revealed how the £39.8bn R&D budget for 2022-2025 will be allocated across the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s partner organisations.

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R&D spending is set to increase by £5bn to £20bn per annum by 2024-2025, a 33 per cent increase in spending over the current parliament by 2024-2025.

The allocations aim to deliver on the ambitions set out in the government’s Innovation Strategy, with investments supporting a commitment of ensuring total R&D spending reaches 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027.

Investments will contribute to the new cross-government approach on research and development, BEIS said, aiming to ‘deliver strategic advantage in science and technology, work alongside industry to leverage private investment and deliver prosperity, security and resilience’.

This includes full funding for EU programmes, for which £6.8bn has been allocated to support the UK’s association with Horizon Europe, Euratom Research & Training, and Fusion for Energy. If the UK is unable to associate to Horizon Europe, funding allocated to Horizon association will go to UK government R&D programmes, including those to support new international partnerships.

Commenting on the Horizon Europe allocation, James Wilsdon, director of the Research on Research Institute (RoRI) and Digital Science Professor of Research Policy at Sheffield University said: “If association proves impossible, or is interminably delayed, then UKRI will presumably need to step in as the delivery vehicle for any ‘Plan B’ — bringing with it the double-edged sword of a big budget boost, plus the complex task of reassembling the broken jigsaw of UK-EU collaboration.”

UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) will receive over £25bn across the next three years, reaching over £8.8bn in 2024-2025, its highest ever level and over £1bn more than in 2021-2022. This will include an increase in funding for core Innovate UK programmes by 66 per cent to £1.1bn in 2024-2025.

Cash boost from Autumn Budget and Spending Review

The UK Space Agency’s budget will also grow to over £600m by 2024-2025, in recognition of the UK’s space sector adding nearly £16bn to UK GDP, BEIS confirmed.

Allocations follow the government’s recent commitments made in the Levelling Up White Paper to increase public investment in R&D outside the greater South East by at least a third over the Spending Review period, and for these regions to receive at least 55 per cent of BEIS domestic R&D budget by 2024-2025.

“For too long, R&D spending in the UK has trailed behind our neighbours — and in this country, science and business have existed in separate spheres,” said business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. “I am adamant that this must change. Now is the moment to unleash British science, technology and innovation to rise to the challenges of the 21st century.”

Professor John Womersley, former chief executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) said that whilst the headline figures in the R&D budget are good and follow the previously announced trajectory to boost science funding, scientists are waiting to see how individual council budgets within UKRI will fare — and whether the core research funding lines that support university-based research will increase at the same rate.

“Researchers are also growing concerned that these increases will be eaten up by rapidly rising inflation,” Womersley commented. “And of course, the overall research budget includes funding set aside to support UK accession to the EU’s Horizon Europe research programme.

“This announcement just serves to remind us that UK participation in Horizon Europe remains blocked by the European Commission as part of the ongoing dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol, despite increasing numbers of European researchers urging that the issues should be decoupled. This is especially true at a time when Western democracies with shared values should be working together in the face of external threats.”