The real trouble with funding

The trouble with science funding in Britain doesn't lie with scientists, or the Government. Earlier this week Microsoft announced more funding for the brightest minds of Cambridge University, and the Canadian telecoms company Nortel announced the fruits of the work of Ian Vance - a Briton who has figured out how to send Internet communications over mains electric cables.

A Southampton scientist prepares to move his centre to Connecticut to keep it going. Cambridge-based Imutran, which is developing a way to produce pig organs to transplant into humans, has to seek venture capital funding from the US. Britain is full of scientists who are keen to make discoveries that will shake the world, and make their fortunes.But these bright sparks face enormous problems setting light to British industry. After two recessions, British companies are distrustful of science (and, to some extent, technology), ruled by accountants, and firmly fixed on the short term.

Industry complains that the pressure for profits is too great to fund long-term work. But wool-gathering turned out nicely for the scientists at the Roslin Institute and PPL Therapeutics, who produced Dolly the cloned sheep earlier this year. . The Labour message is, surprisingly, correctt: industry should take up where a government corseted by untaxable voters cannot. Industry should start paying for scientific research, and smile. Because Bill Gates has to have a successor as richest person in the world. Why shouldn't he or she be British?