Science Minister supports ‘ring-fencing’ of cash for research

Following the Chancellor’s budget announcements last week, David Willets, Minister of State for Science and Innovation, has taken part in a Radio 4 live debate about the effects of the spending review on the research budget. He was joined on the programme by an expert panel, including Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology and Sir Martin Taylor, author of the Royal Society report ‘The Scientific Century’.

After praising the scientific community for “bringing together such powerful evidence” on the benefits of research for both economic gains and social well-being, Mr Willets re-iterated the government’s commitment to a “protected cash budget for science and research, in real terms, over the next 4 years”. However, he stressed that this would be allocated specifically to higher education institutions, funding councils, academies and learned societies.

Dr Downs, of the Society for Biology, expressed a “deep sense of relief and gratitude” following the ring-fencing of £4.6 billion per year of funding for science. He added that the essential role of science for our economic recovery’ had been formally recognized by the government, suggesting that it had wisely acted upon strong advice presented by the scientific community and via the Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor John Beddington.

Sir Martin Taylor questioned 25% reduction in Higher Education funding from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, suggesting it could jeopardize the ability of Scientists to plan long-term research projects. This would go against a key recommendation of the Royal Society, that ‘ambitious’ projects’ should be supported to secure the future of innovation in the UK.

During the programme, the panelists also discussed a reported pledge of up to £1billion towards a commercial Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Demonstration project in the North Sea. Speaking on behalf of the research team, Professor Stuart Haszeldine of Edinburgh University claimed that the UK would potentially achieve a “World’s first” building of a commercial CCS plant, upon completion of the project in early 2011.

The full ‘Material World’ programme is available for listening on BBC iplayer, and will be broadcast again tonight at 9pm on Radio 4.