Science minister announces funding plans

The government today published its funding plans for science and research from 2011/12 to 2014/15, with £4.6bn per annum ring-fenced during the period of the spending review.

In a written statement to parliament, David Willetts, minister for universities and science minister, said: ‘Our world-class science and research base is inherently valuable, as well as critical to promoting economic growth.

‘For the first time, HE [higher education] research funding in England has been included within this ring-fence, providing overall stability and certainty to the research base.’

Based on a baseline figure for 2010/11 of approximately £771m, EPSRC’s resource drops three per cent over the review period. Total resource for the National Academies will drop 1.46 per cent overall, but resource spend on the UK Space Agency will rise by 9.41 per cent to around £769m over the review period.

‘This settlement recognises that UK science has the potential to provide a solid basis for the UK’s future economic growth,’ said Marshall Stoneham, president of the Institute of Physics. ‘It is important for our science base to have a stable spending framework to enable researchers to plan for the next four years. Within constrained public finances, today’s announcements indicate that we have an encouraging footing for future progress.’

Capital investment

Some capital investment – in buildings, maintenance and equipment – has been delayed, which equates to a 41.75 per cent drop in funding in the spending review period.

‘We have taken the decision to delay some capital investment to maximise investment in research projects and people actually doing research,’ said Willetts ‘This enables us to continue to support researchers pushing the boundaries of knowledge across all disciplines, while also ensuring Research Councils, HEFCE, the UK Space Agency and National Academies are able to plan effectively their future investment in facilities and key projects.’

EPSRC is facing a 49.25 per cent drop in capital funding over the period based on a 2010/11 baseline figure of £49.261m. STFC – across core programmes, cross-council facilities and international subscriptions – faces a shortfall of 24.2 per cent, but spend on the Large Facilities Capital Fund will increase by 23.94 per cent, while the UK Space Agency sees its capital spend frozen.

‘It is encouraging that the government has tried to protect research where it can,’ said Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. ‘It looks like capital spending on research will be hit less hard than capital spending across BIS – it’s down 41 per cent, rather than the expected 44 per cent. But this still means a dramatic reduction in investment in equipment and facilities, putting a big dent in Britain’s scientific credentials.

‘What’s especially worrying is that a lot of this “capital spending” is actually maintenance and other long-term commitments, which can’t simply be stopped – the money will have to come from other sources, including research grants, instead.

‘Cutting back on capital spending may have its own costs – the opportunity costs of not fully exploiting past investments in high-tech infrastructure, and the very real costs of redundancy payments to staff now deemed surplus to requirements.’

The government further announced today that it intends allocate funding to a small number of further projects on the 2010 Large Facilities Roadmap in 2011.