Budget pared for aerospace research: Government rejects advice of industry experts

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INDUSTRY MINISTERS are set to ignore the advice of their own expert advisers by cutting support for civil aerospace research over the next three years.

In a confidential report last autumn, the Department of Trade and Industry's aviation committee warned that the sector faced serious decline unless the Government agreed to inject hundreds of millions of pounds into a national technology plan.

Despite the warning, the budget for the DTI's civil aircraft research and demonstration programme (Carad) is expected to fall from pounds 25m a year to less than pounds 20m between now and 1996.

This emerged yesterday in evidence to the Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee from Timothy Sainsbury, the industry minister, who received the report last November.

Between 1990/91 and 1992/93 spending on Carad totalled pounds 78.4m, of which pounds 21.5m was Britain's contribution to the European Transonic Windtunnel at Cologne, a joint project with Germany, France and the Netherlands.

The budget for this year has been agreed at pounds 18m, and over the next three-year period is unlikely to exceed pounds 60m. This compares with the pounds 100m a year that Roy McNulty, president of Shorts, the Belfast aerospace company, said had to be spent on the National Strategic Technology Acquisition Plan recommended by the aviation committee.

Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, has pledged to respond to the aviation committee's recommendations by the middle of the year, although he is refusing to publish its report on the grounds that it contains confidential commercial information.

Mr Sainsbury said that in limiting the Carad budget he had taken into account other spending priorities. Support for aerospace had also to be set in the wider context of the science and technology review being undertaken by the Cabinet Office.

The decision is likely to dismay the aerospace industry, which employs 150,000 workers directly and contributed pounds 2.5bn to the balance of trade last year. Industry leaders have warned that without investment in areas such as wing design, airframe materials and engine propulsion systems, Britain will fall behind competitors.