Fears are growing that trade secretary Peter Mandelson may scrap a key civil aircraft research programme when he unveils his Competitiveness White Paper later this month.
The Civil Aircraft Research and Technology Demonstration (Carad) programme for applied R&D costs £24m a year to run and is dedicated to the development of new technologies.
Keith Hayward, Society of British Aerospace Companies head of research, said: ‘There have been plenty of hints that the DTI is reconsidering the place of Carad. It does stand out, from the civil service viewpoint, as an anomaly as the only dedicated sectoral research programme now run by the DTI. Just for tidiness’ sake a civil service mind might say “pop that money into a general fund”.’
John Rose, president of the SBAC, wrote to Mandelson a few weeks ago to brief him on Carad’s significance.
The Department of Trade and Industry said this week that no decisions have been taken on Carad’s future and that its new spending plans will be announced in the coming White Paper.
Among options for Carad are cancellation or a funding cut, the DTI said, but it stressed that its place should be considered in the context of all its spending plans.
Hayward complained that the £24m funding level ‘has not risen in line with inflation, so it has been cut in real terms.’
‘Clearly, the threat to Carad funding goes beyond the monies involved which are too low anyway. The cancellation by the Government of its own civil aeronautics research programme would not be viewed as positive in the European context’.
Hayward suspects that the idea of scrapping Carad ‘has been floated to see what comes up’. If there is no or little response, there will be fewer impediments to scrapping the programme, he suggested.
He put the chances of Carad surviving at 50/50 and said: ‘We’ll be keeping up the pressure on the Government. We’re not going to take any chances.’
* Opinion, page 12