In a speech delivered to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Prime Minster Theresa May announced an increase in science funding of £2bn per year. This funding increase comes as a part of a government-backed “industrial strategy,” with the aims of aiding and improving economic “winners” within the industrial field. Speaking to the CBI, the Prime Minister stated that “we compete with the best in autos, aerospace and advanced engineering. We are breaking new ground in life sciences and new fields.” As such, the extra £2bn will be primarily invested in several scientific areas in which the UK has already made a name for itself – such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and quantum computing. May referred to a want for the UK to become “the global go-to place for scientists, innovators and tech investors,” as the motivation behind this decision.
However, in the recent political climate it appears as though even a science funding announcement is not possible without mention of other topics. The Prime Minister stated that the above objectives would not be possible without “bringing immigration down to sustainable levels overall so we maintain public faith in the system.” On the topic, Professor Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, told BBC News, “an influx of money on its own won’t be sufficient in itself,” noting that “we need to hire the best talent. Hopefully a lot of that will be home-grown. But there is no substitute for attracting the best in the world so we can be the best in the world.”
With Britain currently receiving £850m in research funding from the EU, this extra £2bn of investment into science funding could be the Prime Minister’s method of attempting to protect scientific research from any economic consequences of leaving. She stated, “we will commit to substantial real terms increases in government investment […] investing an extra £2 billion a year by the end of this Parliament to help put post-Brexit Britain at the cutting edge of science and tech.”
The post-recession freeze imposed on the science budget in 2010 has meant that funding for science has now remained static for half a decade. This has been made worse by inflation, resulting in a science budget that has been able to cover less and less each year. In contrast, many countries globally have increased their investments into scientific research, with May noting that “our competitors aren’t standing still. They are investing heavily in research and development.”
The Prime Minister also indicated that there could be tax breaks which would encourage firms to further invest in scientific research. She said, “now we want to go further, and look at how we can make our support even more effective – because my aim is not simply for the UK to have the lowest corporate tax rate in the G20, but also a tax system that is profoundly pro-innovation.”
While there are still concerns within the scientific community, regarding the availability of free movement of scientists both into and out of the UK, the overall reaction to this announcement appears to be positive. There are hopes that scientific progress will stand in good stead, even in the midst of any economic uncertainty which may lie ahead.