Scientists say Tory 'lack of vision' will damage economy

Letter to <i>The Independent</i> reveals concerns about Conservative policy

By Andrew Grice
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:32
Nick Clegg can expect his opponents to get tougher
Nick Clegg can expect his opponents to get tougher

Some of Britain's top scientists have accused the Conservative Party of a "lack of vision" that risks undermining the country's ability to generate economic growth through innovation.

In a letter to The Independent, 22 scientists call on the Tories to spell out their plans for science and warn that Britain's economic recovery depends on continuing the investment being made in it under Labour.

The authors, including the Nobel laureate Professor Sir Paul Nurse and three other Fellows of the Royal Society, highlight concerns that the Tories are a "vision-free zone" and that the science budget would fall victim to spending cuts. They say: "The Conservatives' continuing failure to address this critique is making us concerned that this lack of vision actually reflects a lack of commitment."

Dr John Unsworth, an industrial scientist who organised the letter, said last night: "A lot of people are concerned because cuts are in the offing. Labour has a good record. It 'gets' science. There is silence from the Tories."

Their intervention is bound to be seized on by Mr Brown, who insisted yesterday that he had "no quarrel" with business as he came under further criticism from bosses over Labour's decision to raise national insurance contributions (NICs) next April.

Last night Mr Brown risked a new battle with the City of London by promising a permanent clampdown on bankers' pay – not just the one-off curb introduced after the financial crisis.

In a speech in London, he said: "He said: "This year we have seen a welcome reduction in the proportion of revenues global investment banks have paid out in bonuses. But we need to ensure that this is a structural change, not a one-off response to public pressure. So I can say that in our manifesto our Financial Services Authority will be given powers to quash those contracts which incentivise reckless risk taking and instability. And if there is evidence to show that constraints on bonuses are being evaded, we will act."

The Labour manifesto will include several measures designed to re-emphasise the party's pro-business credentials and create a positive vision of a post-recession economy.

The "pro-growth" package to create one million jobs involves pledges on high speed rail, new nuclear power stations, large-scale wind turbine manufacture, universal access to high-speed broadband, doubling entrepreneurs' lifetime tax relief to £2m, continued investment in science and commercialisation of research.

Mr Brown said the £12bn of government efficiency savings that the Tories would use to halt the NICs increase were based on flimsy calculations which could not be delivered on top of the £15bn savings already in the pipelines for the current financial year.

He warned: "You cannot effectively get £27 billion in one year – which is equivalent to half of the education budget – without laying thousands of people off and without losses of businesses and loss of jobs." Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, accused the Tories of "reckless opportunism" in inventing "fantasy" savings that were "not credible".

Mr Cameron said the Government was "looking very rattled and very worried that they are losing the argument with business". He added: "We are coming out of recession, the economy is starting to grow, the very craziest thing to do right now would be to put an extra tax on every job in the country."

Sir Stuart Rose, the chief executive of Marks & Spencer, hit back at Mr Brown's claim that business leaders had been "deceived." He said: "This is an important argument, and to insult the intelligence of 60-plus chief executives is unhelpful. This is not a political point, so much as a point about where tax should be levied."

Explainer: Efficiency savings

Q. Why are the political parties banging on about government efficiency savings?

A. The Conservatives are promising to stop the 1 per cent rise in national insurance contributions (NICs) planned for next April. They say they would fill the resulting hole in the Exchequer's revenue by cutting waste in central government by £12bn. About £6bn of this would be used to prevent a NICs increase for all employers, and would leave people earning up to £45,400 better off (up to £150 a year) than under Labour's plans.

Q. What is Labour's response?

A. Gordon Brown argues that an extra £12bn of savings could not be found in the 2010-11 financial year because his government was already committed to finding £15bn. Ministers warned the Tory "savings" would harm frontline services – and take money out of the economy (via state spending) too quickly.

Q. How would the Tories find another £12bn of savings?

A. They have not given any specific examples or a breakdown by Whitehall department. They have suggested the areas would include back-office and property costs, IT projects, recruitment and buying goods and services. Labour insists it is squeezing these budgets. But two former government advisers, Sir Peter Gershon and Martin Read, have told the Tories there is scope for a further £12bn of efficiencies.

Q. Who's winning the argument?

A. The Tories, so far, with the help of 81 businessmen who have backed their plans to halt the NICs rise and believe there is scope to cut government waste. Comments by Mr Brown and Lord Mandelson that the company bosses had been "deceived" provoked a backlash from some of them.

Q. What happens next?

A. This one will run. Labour is at pains to stress it is not "at war" with business and its manifesto will include a raft of measures to boost enterprise and growth.

Andrew Grice

Highlights of the day

Bravery award of the day

Best of luck to Suzanne Moore, who has announced her candidature for Hackney North and Stoke Newington via Twitter. Moore, a columnist for the paragon of ethnic tolerance that is The Mail on Sunday is running in a constituency in which only 44 per cent are "White British".

Cold shower of the day

Nary a dry eye in the house as Gordon Brown gushed about how his wife Sarah was the love of his life. Apart from Lord Mandelson, that is, who responded with a terse "Isn't that lovely? Goodbye".

Slip of the day

Wheeled out yesterday to promote Tory plans for "a kind of non-military national service", Sir Michael Caine appeared to break ranks: "This government is doing a wonderful job, so let's give them a second chance," he told confused hacks at the Conservatives' first morning press conference. Not a lot of Tory strategists knew that.

Carbon footprint of the day

William Hague and Annabel Goldie did their bit to dispel any lingering doubts about the Tories' commitment to green issues. The pair shunned cars when they undertook their whistlestop tour of Scotland, preferring instead to travel by private helicopter.

Unwanted invitation of the day

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell delivered a "big pink fluffy invite" to David Cameron for this Sunday's "David Cameron Coming Out Street Party" outside Tory HQ. No news yet on whether his plus one will be Chris Grayling.

Gripe of the day

Reports suggest that Mrs Clegg is not as taken with Vince Cable as others are. Miriam Gonzalez Durantez has been texting Spanish friends complaining about the man-who-would-be-chancellor's habit of announcing policies without fully consulting her husband first.

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