An extra £600m to be spent on science over the next three years was widely welcomed by scientists as the Government began to flesh out how it intends to stimulate eight key fields of scientific research that it sees as critical to the British economy.
George Osborne delighted scientists with the announcement of the extra money for scientific facilities and infrastructure, bringing the total capital investment in science announced since the last comprehensive spending review to more than £1.5bn.
The new money addresses some of the concerns of scientists who argued that the ring-fenced annual science budget of £4.6bn did not cover the increasing costs of new facilities, buildings and equipment needed to carry out cutting-edge research.
“George Osborne has said that his government is up to the challenge of making Britain the best place in the world to do science, and this does indeed seem to be the trajectory we are on,” said Professor Brian Cox, the particle physicist and TV presenter.
“Science and engineering are the route to future economic growth, and with the continuing support of government, I am convinced that the academic and research sectors, in collaboration with industry, will deliver,” Professor Cox said.
The extra money will be invested in some of the eight areas identified as critically important by the Chancellor in a speech to the Royal Society last month, including a national centre for new types of composite materials in Bristol as well as research into ways of handling huge volumes of computer-generated data.
David Willetts, the minister for universities and science said that the new money will help to drive economic growth, create jobs of the future and help Britain to get a lead in the global race towards new economies based on science and engineering.
“It will support high-tech areas where the UK’s research base and industry can gain a competitive advantage, like big data and energy-efficient computing, synthetic biology and advanced materials,” Mr Willetts said.
Sir Paul Nurse, the president of the Royal Society, said that scientific innovation is the key to sustainable economic growth and science is the raw material that fuels this innovation.
“The Chancellor clearly understands this and his ongoing commitment to investing in science, despite the difficult financial circumstances, is very welcome,” Sir Paul said.
“We have some way to go to match the public and private investment levels in research and development of some of our competitor economies but we have the advantage of already being truly world class in many areas of science,” he said.
The eight technologies are: energy-efficient computing, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, agricultural science, energy storage, advanced materials, robotics and space technology.