Autumn Statement: Science gets £600m injection

Chancellor delivering Autumn Statement The Chancellor recently outlined his strategy for bolstering the UK's science base

Chancellor George Osborne has announced a £600m injection into the UK's scientific research infrastructure in his Autumn Statement.

The money is directed at eight strands of research outlined by the Chancellor in a November speech to the Royal Society.

These include synthetic biology, energy storage and advanced materials.

The commitment brings the total capital spending in science since the 2010 spending review to more than £1.5bn.

The Comprehensive Spending Review had seen the £4.6bn annual science and innovation budget ring-fenced and frozen in cash terms - effectively representing an annual cut by the rate of inflation.

But Wednesday's announcement dwarfs the £200m allocated in the 2011 Autumn Statement. It will be spent over the course of three years, with £10m, £282m and £308m annual expenditures.

It adds to the £300m commitment made at the November speech, in which the Chancellor pledged to increase the UK's spend in the space sector by £60m annually over five years.

Scientists and learned societies welcomed the news.

You can almost hear the sigh of relief from the world of British science this evening. The surprisingly large boost of £600m mostly makes up for cuts in capital spending confirmed two years ago so plans for new instruments and laboratories can now go ahead. Expect new investments in many areas notably e-infrastructure - the supercomputers that major research relies on.

Science minister David Willetts argued that science is an engine of growth and the Treasury listened. George Osborne told the Royal Society last month that he was "up for the challenge set by Brian Cox and others of making Britain the best place in the world to do science".

The government has identified eight key technologies from synthetic biology to energy storage. But so have Britain's competitors - and all too often they are the ones who have reaped the benefits of British ideas.

"It will support high-tech areas where the UK's research base and industry can gain a competitive advantage," said Science Minister David Willetts.

"This will drive growth, create the jobs of the future and help us get ahead in the global race."

President of the Royal Society, Paul Nurse, said that the new investment "will hopefully help ensure that our world-leading scientists have world-leading facilities with which to work".

"We have some way to go to match the public and private investment levels in research and development of some of our competitor economies but we have the advantage of already being truly world class in many areas of science," he said.

However, he warned against focussing disproportionately on the eight areas of excellence outlined by the Chancellor in November ("big data" computing, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, agricultural science, energy storage, space, robotics and advanced materials including nanotechnology).

"We must also make sure that we maintain capital and other support across a broad range of science. We must not narrow our focus too much and risk sacrificing the ideas that will create growth decades from now."

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