Government commitment to CRSF throughout the spending review period

Posted on June 9, 2011 by

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While I was dozing on the sofa yesterday evening, the Lords were debating… and they covered some interesting health research issues including the unclear future of the Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF) prompting the minister to make a clear statement from the government that CRSF is part of HEFCE’s block grant for research and as such will continue throughout the spending review period.

Background

This was a debate following an inquiry the Lords Science & Technology Committee did in the last parliament Setting Priorities for publicly funded research.

As Lord Sutherland said when introducing the debate:

This report was prepared as a matter of some urgency in the autumn of 2009 and the spring of 2010, before the impending election, to help the debate about the place of science and technology in our community at a time which evidently was going to be one of financial austerity.

The government has responded in July 2010 and this was an opportunity to follow up some of the issues.

The interesting bits from a health research perspective..

Lord Sutherland kicked off the debate, picking out three current policy developments he is concerned are having an impact on our capacity in science

  • Funding of STEM subjects
  • Health research in the NHS and the impact of the planned reforms
  • Migration of skilled researchers

On health research he said:

…there are real discussions going on about the state of the current Bill. The Bill contains a clear permissive statement that research can be commissioned. I would like reassurances that the resources will not simple slide away from those who do the commissioning. If the resources move significantly towards a different form of commissioning within the health service, will there be a danger that the major input of the NHS into research might slip backwards – for example, for drug trials which are very important in this country, but also basic research in medical science? It would be good, even if not today in writing, to have some reassurances that this can be done.

We have raised this concern over resources for health research in our response to the NHS Future Forum and we are waiting for them to report next week.

The peers speaking in the debate took pains to welcome the government commitment and investment in science:

  • In terms of bangs for bucks we are top of the G8 league.
  • Welcomed the flat cash settlement in the spending review
  • Welcomed investment in the new UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI, recently re-named the Francis Crick Institute).
  • Listed our fabulous Nobel prize winners etc.

But they expressed their concerns that we can’t “rest on our laurels”

  • The global landscape of science is changing rapidly – China is expected to overtake the USA as the leading nation for publishing scientific papers by 2013.
  • The UK is spending less on science as a proportion of GDP – about half of that of many of our major competitors.
  • There has been a 54% cut in the capital budget of research councils
  • There have been cuts to government department’s investments into research & development.
  • We don’t have a clear 10-year science and investment framework (something CaSE are calling for and John Denham MP has publicly supported as Lord Young referenced in the debate) and several peers re-iterated this call.
  • Can we rely on continuing to attract talented individuals to research here?

Issues covered included scientific advice & chief scientific advisers, evidence-based policy making, cross-departmental coordination to tackle big science issues including biodiversity, climate change, food security, and the difficulties inherent in quantifying the impacts of research when it can be years before they become clear.

AMRC’s chair, Lord Willis, took the opportunity to press the government over continuing investment in the Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF). This is a part of the HEFCE funding allocated to Quality-related Research (QR funding) through which the government partners charity funders to support the full costs of doing the research in universities.

…it is crucially important that we retain links with our charitable research funders. Some 15 per cent of the money going into our universities comes from charities, with the 126 member charities in AMRC spending roughly £1billion last year. Without the Charity Research Support Fund introduced by the previous government, it would not be possible to deliver the front-line support that the charities provide. I want to ask the Minister about this because the replies I have had so far suggest that the Charity Research Support Fund will last only until 2011-12, with £198million. I hope that my noble friend will be able to get a message from the Box saying that at least throughout the whole of this comprehensive spending review period, it will remain in place. Without it, we will seriously affect the amount of money going into research from our charities.

Baroness Wilcox, a BIS minister, was responding. And on the CRSF she said:

…the charity support fund is part of HEFCE’s block grant for research and will continue throughout the spending review period, as was announced last December.

Which is brilliant to hear confirmed – the strongest commitment we have had so far to its continuance over the coming years although it doesn’t say anything about the size of the fund.

Posted in: Policy