Science is a big part of the new national infrastructure plan

Posted on October 25, 2010 by

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The government has launched a national infrastructure plan today. It focuses on “creating the right framework for growth” so includes quite a lot about science; mostly a repetition of the announcements in last week’s spending review but it clearly lays out the government’s plan, what they plan to do and commit to, to make this happen.

The government sees its role as;

..to specify what infrastructure we need, identify the key barriers to achieving investment and mobilise the resources, both public and private, to make it happen.

What does it say?

The interesting sciency bit in the report is at 4(e) Intellectual Capital, page 37. This includes a commitment to providing Quality-related (QR) research funding through the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) – this is the pot that charity research support funding comes out of although there is still no further detail on this specific funding stream. And a commitment to the Research Excellence Framework for allocating research funds. There is a also a reference recognising the  considerable value of private and charity sector investment in UK infrastructure when repeating the financial commitments the government made in the spending review to UKCMRI and new Technology and Investment Centres. And a strong focus on supporting people to develop skills and interact with business.

4(e) Intellectual capital

Programme

4.52 To provide the right investment in science, research and innovation it is important to:

  • invest in research facilities and equipment in universities;
  • support Research Council institutes and national facilities (such as the Diamondsynchrotron);
  • fund research, including specific research projects and block grants to universities;
  • invest in the next generation of researchers by funding people to undertakedoctorates and postdoctoral fellowships;
  • support programmes that incentivise Higher Education Institutions andresearchers to work with business to maximise the economic impact of researchinvestments; and
  • invest in the innovation infrastructure including the National Measurement System.

4.53 These investments are complementary. Funding new research via project grants andstudentships is only effective if the necessary research infrastructure – facilities and equipment –exists to support this activity.

Methods

4.54 To bring these investments forward, the Government will:

  • invest in facilities and equipment in universities;
  • support national Research Facilities through the Research Councils;
  • help fund key international science facilities through international subscriptions(such as CERN);
  • fund research by providing Quality-related (QR) funding to Higher EducationInstitutions in England through the Higher Education Funding Council for England,with funds allocated for research quality and impact on the economy through theResearch Excellence Framework;
  • fund research in universities via competitive peer reviewed grants throughthe Research Councils, identifying future pathways to impact of research onthe economy;
  • fund research in the Research Councils’ own research institutes;
  • fund excellent people directly through the Research Councils and the NationalAcademies studentships and fellowships programmes;
  • bring Higher Education Institutions in England even closer to business throughreforms to the Higher Education Innovation Fund;
  • support the development of Science and Innovation Campuses at Harwell andDaresbury;
  • support the Technology Strategy Board to incentivise business led technologyinnovation; and
  • establish a network of Technology and Innovation Centres.

Government commitments

4.55 As part of the Spending Review, despite enormous pressure on public spending, the overalllevel of resource funding for science and research programmes has been protected in cash termsin a ring-fenced budget. The Government has also been able to confirm funding for a numberof key capital investments to enhance the UK’s science infrastructure.

4.56 The main aims for the Government’s capital expenditure in Science in the Spending Review period are to maximise the benefits of key research assets such as Diamond synchrotron, and tomaintain the existing infrastructure of the UK research base.

4.57 Investment in new facilities of national importance will complement the private and charitysector investment that the Government’s programme will bring forward, including:

  • £220 million of capital investment in the UK Centre for Medical Research andInnovation:
    • The UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation will be a world-classinstitute for basic biomedical research to help develop treatments fordisease, train clinicians of the future and foster engagement between scientistsand clinicians;
  • £69 million of capital investment in the Diamond Light Source:
    • Investment in the Diamond synchrotron will provide cutting-edge facilities forthe science community and industry users, extending its reach into newresearch areas such as medical science and engineering materials, andgenerating significant benefits for the economy and society. Diamond is a joint venture funded by the Government through Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Wellcome Trust; and
  • £200 million a year by 2014-15 to support manufacturing and businessdevelopment:
    • With a focus on supporting potential high growth companies and thecommercialisation of technologies, including funding for an elite network ofresearch and development intensive Technology and Innovation Centres.

What next?

These plans stretch across departments so putting them into action will involve a lot of cross-departmental co-ordination. This will be led by the Cabinet’s Economic Affairs Committee, chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and supported by Infrastructure UK (Infrastructure UK is relatively new, established as a division of the Treasury in the June 2010 budget. It has a goal to focus on enabling greater private sector investment in infrastructure, and improving the Government’s long-term planning, prioritisation and delivery of infrastructure. It has an advisory council guiding its strategic direction and priorities whose members include Sir Mark Walport, Wellcome Trust).

The work plan to put this report into action is laid out on page 39. In the light of ongoing work, an updated plan will be published next year.

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