What does the spending review mean for medical research?

Posted on October 20, 2010 by

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George Osborne announced the spending review in the Commons today.

What is happening to science?

  • Science and research are singled out as an area with potential for growth and the need for public investment into the research base is recognised
  • The science budget is frozen at £4.6 billion annually and ringfenced. This budget includes the money for Quality Related funding distributed to universities by the Higher Education Funding Council for England – the pot that charity research support funding comes out of.
  • BIS will ensure MRC expenditure is maintained in real terms
  • The Department of Health will increase funding for medical research with a focus on supporting translation
  • The Department of Health will invest £220 million into construction of the UK Centre for Medical Research & Innovation

The government will foster university-business interaction through the Higher Education Innovation Fund and by establishing research and development intensive technology and innovation centres (along the lines of those proposed in the Hauser report – The Current and Future Role of Technology and Innovation Centres in the UK published back in March)

Science and research are singled out in the Executive summary as an area with potential for growth (page 6)

ensures the UK remains a world leader in science and research by continuing support forthe highest value scientific research, maintaining the science budget in cash terms over the Spending Review period with resource spending of £4.6 billion;

The Treasury has recognised that a strong science and research base cannot be supported by the private sector and so there is a need for public investment.

1.30 The Government has also prioritised current spending which helps deliver outcomes that support growth, including a strong science and research base, which the private sector would not provide. For example, it is increasing core funding for schools and expanding adult apprenticeships, and prioritising funding for world class research.

BIS is to make overall savings of 7.1% but the science budget will be frozen at £4.6 billion a year. It will be ring-fenced. The government are proposing that several million of savings as identified by the Wakeham review can be made within this budget through efficiency measures for reinvestment into science. There will be investment into capital projects including the UK Centre for Medical Research & Innovation (UKCMRI) and the Laboratory of Molecular Biology. The capital investment of £220 million into the construction of UKCMRI will come from the Department of Health – this was money that had been announced by the previous government but is now confirmed. (page 23)

Science
1.35 To support long term growth, the Government will prioritise support for world class science maintaining spending in cash terms. The Government will also increase the efficiency of the science budget, saving £324 million a year by 2014-15. These efficiency savings will be reinvested in science. A ring-fence will be maintained to ensure continuity of investment in science and research. In addition, £220 million will be invested in the construction of the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation at St Pancras. The cutting edge Diamond Synchrotron facility in Oxfordshire will receive £69 million of public funding over the Spending Review period in partnership with the Wellcome Trust.

1.36 The Government will seek to drive commercial investment in scientific knowledge by reforming the Higher Education Innovation Fund.

The Department of Health will increase spending on health research in real terms. There will be a focus on supporting translation. MRC expenditure will be maintained in real terms.

2.49 The Department of Health will increase spending on health research in real terms. Within this, additional funding will be made available to support the translation of research into practical applications, including the development of new medicines and therapies. To complement this, BIS will ensure that Medical Research Council expenditure is maintained in real terms. In addition, £220 million of capital funding from the Department of Health has been allocated for the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, subject to approval of the final business case.

University-Business interactions. The government will use the Higher Education Innovation Fund to foster commercial interaction between researchers and business. They also plan to establish research and development intensive technology and innovation centres (along the lines of those proposed in the Hauser report – The Current and Future Role of Technology and Innovation Centres in the UK published back in March)

2.50 To develop the sector’s contribution to economic growth, the Government will reform the Higher Education Innovation Fund to incentivise universities to increase commercial interaction between the research base and business.

2.51 The Government will provide £200 million a year by 2014-15 to support manufacturing and business development, with a focus on supporting potential high growth companies and
the commercialisation of technologies, including funding for an elite network of Research and Development intensive technology and innovation centres.

Reaction

Simon Denegri, AMRC Chief Executive, has responded:

Is this a slam-dunk for science?  No, of course not.  Is this a good result in the circumstances?  Yes, probably.  Today’s spending review announcement at least ensures continuity as well as stability in science funding for the foreseeable future.  But I remain concerned about the added demands it will place on charity funding of research.  As ever, the fine print will need careful reading.

What may turn out to be more important in the long-term is the fact that HM Treasury have been won over by the arguments about how science drives the nation’s wealth, health and wellbeing.  We need to push on from here and work together to strengthen UK medical and health research so that patients can benefit from new thinking and treatments.

You can see a lot of reactions from leading figures across the science community in the comments following this Guardian article

And you might also be interested in Evan Harris’s guide to how he will be reading the numbers

What next?

Vince Cable and David Willetts have agreed to be grilled on what the spending review will mean by the Commons Business, Innovation & Skills committee next Tuesday, 26 October, at 11:30am.

We will look out for details on what is going to happen to Quality Related (QR) funding distributed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) – this is the pot that charity research support funding comes out of. (more details on how this works here)

We need to wait to see how departments decide to allocate the pots they have. How much money will each of the research councils get – there is an undertaking that MRC expenditure will be maintained in real terms. And what will happen to other departmental spending on Research & Development across government.