Britain urged to become `laboratory of Europe'

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The Independent Online

Science Editor

Britain must turn itself into the scientific "laboratory of Europe" if it wants to attract inward investment and halt its spiral of economic decline, it was claimed yesterday.

By encouraging brilliant young scientists and engineers, Britain could attract international hi-tech, high value-added companies to the United Kingdom and revitalise the economy, according to the Save British Science (SBS) society. Dr Matthew Freeman, a molecular biologist at Cambridge, said the UK was "uniquely well placed to become the laboratory of Europe and no responsible government can afford to ignore that".

But, he warned, the UK "has only a narrow window of opportunity". He pointed out that in the past 10 years only one Briton had won a Nobel Prize for research conducted in the UK. Within 10 years it would be too late to reverse the damage done to British science.

Dr Freeman was talking at the launch of "Policies for the Next Government", a memorandum by SBS which, as a non-party manifesto, sets out the poor state of British science and how it can be changed for the better.

According to Dr Denis Noble, professor of cardiovascular physiology at Oxford and one of the founders of SBS, "The question in an election year is how we shift the UK economy which is spiralling downwards into a virtuous circle for the 21st century . . . science should be an issue."

Over the past decade other countries have increased Government support for basic science but, the memorandum says, "the UK Government has deliberately reduced its investment in civil R&D in real terms. The expenditure in 1993 was approaching pounds 500m per annum less than in 1981".